OGDEN -- It remains to be seen if the courtroom doors will be locked at the May 14 hearing for accused cop-killer Matthew David Stewart.
The doors to 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde's courtroom have been locked from the outside during the past two hearings for Stewart.
In each case, a Salt Lake City reporter was locked out of the hearing after arriving a bit late.
The lockdowns stem from Hyde's decorum order for the Stewart case in anticipation of a large audience in the courtroom because of the media interest in the case and the large number of victims involved.
Stewart is charged with aggravated murder in the death of Ogden officer Jared Francom during a Jan. 4 shootout with police at his home that wounded five other officers who were serving a search warrant for marijuana plants.
Two other officers also were shot at, leading to seven counts of attempted aggravated murder. Later, 16 marijuana plants were removed from the home, so a ninth charge was lodged against Stewart for cultivation.
Court officials and longtime observers have called the locked doors rare, even unprecedented, officials apparently relieved Hyde's decorum order doesn't actually include instructions for locking doors.
"He may not have been aware the bailiffs were locking the doors," said Nancy Volmer, spokeswoman for the state courts system. "I don't think that was his intent."
She would only say Hyde has been "receptive" in email conversations over concerns about the locked doors. Hyde has declined comment.
Judges have total authority over their courtroom operations, Volmer said, as do county sheriff's offices when it comes to security issues. Sheriffs are empowered by law to provide security for state courts in all 29 counties.
Volmer said the state Administrative Office of the Courts has no written policy or formal protocol regarding locked courtrooms, "but the state courts' practice is not to lock a courtroom unless the sheriff's office deems it necessary for security purposes."
She said she recalled the issue coming up only once or twice across the state in eight years as public information officer.
Senior 2nd District Judge W. Brent West said he hasn't heard of a locked courtroom in Ogden for 20 years or more in his 28 years on the Ogden bench.
While stressing he was not critiquing Hyde's policy, West said locked courtrooms and closed hearings are "extremely problematic" and the judiciary as a whole is historically reluctant to close courtrooms.
"The message we want to convey is, we conduct the people's business in the open," West said.
Hyde's decorum order deals more with potential distractions, meant to ensure sessions proceed "in an orderly manner and to provide for media coverage and for public observation of the proceedings."
It orders that members of the media can only "ingress and egress" the courtroom during hearings for deadline purposes, and others in the audience, only for emergencies.
The "rules of conduct" outlined in the order also require "all persons" identify themselves to a bailiff or a victim's advocate before taking a seat.
It also bans any media interviews in the courtroom during hearings for the Stewart case, or any hallways in the courthouse, designating a training room on the first floor of the courthouse as a media room for interviews.
So far, the hearings have been short, confined to spirited debates between the attorneys, with no testimony to date.
But that will change soon enough.
After a brief status conference May 14 when pending motions will likely be argued, Stewart's three-day preliminary hearing begins July 18.
Three days is one of the longest in recent memory for a preliminary hearing, a mini-trial meant to ensure enough evidence exists to advance a case to trial.
Dozens of witnesses are likely for Stewart's preliminary hearing, because he's charged with aggravated murder, which carries the death penalty, and seven counts of attempted aggravated murder.
More than 20 years ago, West said, closed courtrooms were only slightly more common, allowed when children testified. Even then, notices had to be filed about a pending court closure and hearings set to allow those opposed to argue against it, he said.
That practice was eventually stopped, judges opting instead to ask spectators to voluntarily leave the courtroom when a nervous child took the stand, he said.
"Those were good motives for closures, but even then there were concerns."