Cook County courtroom ban on electronic devices put on hold

January 14, 2013 4:17:09 PM PST
The ban on smartphones and other electronic devices in Cook County courtrooms went into effect Monday, but for now, no one will be penalized for bringing one to court.

There will be a three-month grace period to get people used to the ban.

Every day, thousands of people come to Cook County's criminal courthouses. Most carry cellphones. In court, the phones are supposed to be off. But some people choose to ignore the rule.

There have been smartphone pictures taken of judges, witnesses, prospective jurors. Trial testimony has been illegally recorded and sometimes texted to witnesses.

"We've had instances where testimony was streamed to the Internet while, literally, it's going on in the courtroom," said Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans.

All this, Evans believes, is a threat to the integrity of the trial process. So, as of Monday, the ban began. Cellphones, smartphones, laptops and tablets are no longer welcome in 13 different Cook County criminal courts facilities.

There are exemptions, but the message is, Leave it in the car or leave it at home.

Judges, lawyers, police and reporters are among those granted exemptions. So too are prospective jurors, though there are limits on when and where they can use their electronics.

And, although the ban began Monday, there is a three-month grace period.

"During this three-month period, we fully expect the public will become familiar with the new rule," said Judge Evans.

But, if they're not familiar by April 15, the smartphone can't come in the building. If there is no other place for it, it may have to be locked up in a locker.

Right now, there are only a few lockers at the various criminal courthouses, so the county is looking at purchasing more. How many lockers is uncertain. So too is the answer to the question, Is there a fee for temporary cellphone storage? And, if so, how much?

Those questions are, in part, why there is the three-month grace period. Time to figure it out. Time to learn new habits -- presumably.

The Daley Center is exempt because its cases are civil, not criminal.