Sentencing hearings are usually pretty brief.

The defendant has already been convicted by a jury or pleaded guilty to a crime. The judge hears comments from prosecutors, defense lawyers and in some cases victims and others before meting out a sentence.

But a really strange thing happened at Monday’s marathon five-hour sentencing hearing for the owners of Aloun Farms, brothers Mike and Alec Sou. The hearing ran unusually long — far past the 4:30 p.m. courthouse’s posted closing time — and I got trapped outside the building with several of the defendants’ family members who left to get some air during a late recess.

“I have to move my car. I didn’t know I couldn’t go back in. Otherwise I would have thought twice about it,” said Prany Soulatha, a cousin of the Sous. She had left her 80-year-old father in the courtroom.

The Sous pleaded guilty to keeping 44 Thai immigrants as indentured laborers to work on their farm. They face up to five years in federal prison. It was a significant event for the Sou family.

I, too, had left to move my car. But the single courthouse guard on duty wouldn’t hear any of it. He said the building was closed, wouldn’t let any of us back in and hadn’t warned Sou family members that they wouldn’t be allowed back inside once they left during a recess around 5:40 p.m. Two television journalists literally poked their heads out the door to give their camera crews waiting outside brief updates — but the guard didn’t seem too happy about that and even encouraged them to go out (and stay out). To his credit, the courthouse’s hours were clearly posted on the door. But these were unusual circumstances.

During the hearing, the judge went out of her way to say that while sentencing proceedings are public, she didn’t want the defense to think that they had to bus people in to pack the courtroom at every sentencing. Her sentencing wasn’t going to be influenced by that, she said.

It’s too bad that message of openness didn’t trickle down to the lobby. The lockout seems like a strange twist on the idea of public access to the courts.

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