Cook County Courts get it wrong with new cell phone ban

nophoneJust a few days after I blogged about cell phones in courts, Cook County Presiding Judge Timothy Evans announced that the public will not be allowed to bring camera phones into any of the thirteen Cook County Courthouses that have criminal cases (except, apparently, the Daley Center, which does have some misdemeanor traffic courtrooms).

According to the Sun-Times:

Evans said in a prepared statement Tuesday that several judges who preside over court cases told him they were concerned “that people attending court proceedings were using their cell phones to photograph witnesses, judges, jurors, and prospective jurors. They also said persons appeared to be texting testimony to witnesses waiting their turn to testify outside the courtroom, while others were attempting to stream live to media comments by judges from the bench.”

“The court is sending a strong message to gang members and others that any attempts to intimidate witnesses, jurors, and judges in court will not be permitted,” Evans said in his statement. “The ban will help to ensure that justice is properly done by preserving the integrity of testimony and maintaining court decorum.”

The ban will be in place at 13 court facilities where criminal cases are heard and kick in Jan. 14th.

Violators could be slapped with a contempt of court charge.

Update:  here is the link to Judge Evan’s press release: http://www.chicagobar.org/am/newsfiles/files/19_OfficeoftheChiefJudge_cellphoneban.pdf

This is a truly foolish rule, but not surprising since it is brought by the County that still uses a DOS like system for its court records, lacks wi-fi, does not scan orders and otherwise has barely moved into the 1990s.

These days, virtually everyone carries a cell phone that has a camera in it. Most have phones that are used for calendars, texting, e-mail and internet. All of these things can be helpful to a litigant. If my clients are told not to bring their cell phones to court, how will I be able to contact them to find out where they are when they are running late, and how will they be able to contact me if they have forgotten their courtroom number? Often, they need to contact someone or get information from their phone, such as photos of a damaged vehicle, copies of their insurance information or the phone number of a witness.

I know that I use my phone constantly at court (though not in the courtroom) to keep in contact with clients, use my calendar, and do basic legal research.

By the way, there are hardly any more pay phones at the Cook County courthouses, except I think at 26th Street. They were rendered irrelevant by cell phones and removed years ago. What is someone to do at a courthouse if they need to make a phone call?

I am not aware of a great problem with gang members using camera phones inside a courthouse to intimidate witnesses. If there is such a problem, then the courts should be able to deal with that problem. Most criminal courtrooms have multiple deputy sheriffs stationed inside. They should be able to notice and deal with someone photographing a witness, or respond if anyone complains.

Keep in mind too that while the five suburban courthouses that are covered by this ban have a handful of felony courtrooms, they also have civil courtrooms that hear landlord/tenant, contract, personal injury, divorce and custody cases, to name a few. What do these cases have to do with gangsters?

I have seen this nonsense at the main courthouse in Wheaton in DuPage County. People stand on long security lines only to be sent away to put their phones back in their cars, after they have reached the front of the line. Last Friday, I had a client who was delayed by over 20 minutes because of this.

And even though Wheaton is a busy courthouse, I suspect that some of the suburban Cook County courthouses are even busier. What will happen when over 1,000 people are turned away from the doors of the Markham Courthouse at 9:00 a.m. because they have camera phones? What are people supposed to do with them if they came by public transportation and don’t have a car to place them in?

The Cook County Courts have really over-reacted on this one. This was not well-thought out and was probably spurred on by the same judges who balked at using computers a few years ago as opposed to handwriting each order. Of course, they won’t mind, since it won’t affect them.

One thought on “Cook County Courts get it wrong with new cell phone ban

  1. Pingback: An example of why the courthouse cell phone ban is a mistake | illinoisduilawyer

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