Apr 8, 2016

Courts' Cell Phone Ban Gets Worse for the Non-Elite

In 2012 I wrote about state courthouses in Cook County, Illinois (metro Chicago) selectively banning cell phones from their facilities. Now the court administrators have made a bad situation worse by removing the lockers that allowed court visitors to store their phones while in the building.

Although it was announced in advance, there was apparently "chaos" when the new policy went into effect on Monday, April 4.

The removal of the lockers just exacerbates the issue I raised when the cellphone "ban" was implemented in 2012: that the "ban," by including a plethora of exemptions, creates a caste system in which certain people are "too important" to literally leave their cellphones at the courthouse door. Among those exempt from the rule are members of the news media; current or former judges; licensed attorneys; all law enforcement officers; all government employees; persons reporting for jury service; jurors (with the the permission of the trial judge); building and maintenance workers, and equipment repair persons and vendors.

Court administrators said that they removed the lockers because unauthorized cell phone use in the actual courtrooms was increasing, and could be used to intimidate witnesses. But the court's rules already prohibit cellphone use without permission of the judge presiding in a courtroom. They also claimed that the lockers were being used to store contraband, but again there are court rules and laws to deal with that as well.

But by removing the lockers that allowed the non-privileged to at least bring their devices to the courthouse and securely store them just makes the distinction between those who can bring their phones into the courthouse -- the "haves" -- and the "have nots" -- those who can't -- even worse.

Instead of pining for a world without cell phones that no longer exists, court administrators and judges should learn how to deal with them so that they provide minimal disruption to the necessary functions of the courts.

In the meantime, there may be an opening for entrepreneurs and businesses around Cook County courthouses. But they won't be getting any business from the self-anointed elite who get to keep their phones while enforcing a ban on everyone else with business at the court.


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