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Cell Phone Ban

December 29, 2006 permalink

Family courts routinely alter the record of court hearings. Refer to the case of Harry Kopyto or legislative testimony by Vernon Beck. Cell phones, which can record audio and video, could expose these alterations, causing court staff to demand their removal from the courthouse. The article below shows efforts in Ft Wayne Indiana to do so. The reporter is completely taken in by the cover story, that the ban is to avoid disruptions by ringtones and for security, such as protection of jurors from having their picture taken. A skilled artist with a notepad has been able to make pictures of jurors for centuries, yet notepads have not been banned.



Cell ban set to hit courts

Rules cover all electronic devices

Allen County Courthouse

Starting Tuesday, cell phones, pagers and other electronic devices will not be permitted in the Courthouse or the Bud Meeks Justice Center.

Dean Musser Jr./The Journal Gazette

They’re everywhere.

Some are covered in flowers or NASCAR emblems and they come in various sizes from tiny in-the-ear pieces to thin handhelds to the bulky models of yesteryear.

But come Tuesday, one place cell phones won’t be allowed is inside Allen County’s courts. People won’t even be allowed to take phones, pagers or other electronic devices, into the buildings. The only exceptions to the new rule will be for attorneys with court-issued identification cards and county employees with their proper county identification badges.

Signs have been up for about a month inside and around the county’s four court buildings – the Allen County Courthouse; the Bud Meeks Justice Center where misdemeanor and traffic court is conducted; the Allen County Juvenile Center; and the Courthouse Annex, which is where the Small Claims Division is located – to give people plenty of notice of the pending ban.

“Our building and courts across the country are called temples of justice,” Allen Superior Judge Fran Gull said. “The reason it’s akin to temples is because of the solemnity of things going on. When you get ring tones going off, inappropriate ones that we’ve all been exposed to in elevators and the mall, it interferes with what’s going on.

“It’s just been a real electronic nightmare that we didn’t have to deal with even 10 years ago.”

In addition to disruption, the main reason behind the ban is safety, judges have said, because people have been using their phones to take pictures and videos of attorneys, jurors, witnesses, victims and court proceedings. Indiana law bars cameras from most courtrooms.

Although people have asked, there will be no exceptions, Gull said. The Board of Judges, which includes all the superior and circuit court judges, makes that decision, and so far has denied official requests from the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust Board of Directors as well as a local doctor who provides services to the court.

Gull said the courts will make phones available to people who need them, and if the need becomes great enough, they will consider talking to the county commissioners about adding more phone lines and installing additional pay phones.

Unlike other court systems, such as the local federal building, sheriff’s deputies will not hold anyone’s cell phones at the front security station. They will tell people to put them in their cars or they will not be allowed in. That also applies to people who are dropped off for court.

“We have no room to hold them,” Gull said. “We get over 1,500 folks a day just in the Courthouse. That doesn’t count the justice center, juvenile court or small claims. There’s no way we could accommodate the numbers of phones, cameras and electronic devices that people carry.”

However, law enforcement officers, who are required to check their gun in a lockbox with deputies, will likely be able to store their cell phones there as well, Gull said.

The ban will not only affect people coming to court hearings, but also groups that work daily within the system, such as the Fort Wayne Police Department’s Victim Assistance; the state Department of Child Protective Services; and Court Appointed Special Advocates, also known as CASA.

The groups say they understand the reasons behind the ban and are just trying to find ways to work within it. Victim Assistance Executive Director Lynnice Hamilton said her organization will just have to plan better than they do now to coordinate meeting victims at court.

“(Cell phones) were our only means of communication with advocates who were out of the office in court,” she said. “So (now) we either have to send someone down to contact the advocate in court if there’s information they need, or if there’s any sort of emergency for them personally or for the office. But overall if you look at the safety of victims and jurors, it’ll be well worth it. We wouldn’t want anyone’s life to be at stake because we’re being inconvenienced.”

Allen County CASA Director Rex McFarren said the ban will affect several of their volunteers, who are not considered county employees, if court runs behind schedule.

“We have some (volunteers) who are retired and are not on any major time schedule, (but) we do have a fair amount who work full time and have the ability by flexible schedule … to go to a court hearing because their employers are very gracious,” he said. “When court runs late, we’ve had volunteers who had to call and reschedule. That would be a problem for them in that vein, but I think for our volunteers we can probably be able to find an office somewhere to use there at court.”

The cell phone ban will also apply to the state Department of Child Protective Services, which has made a request to be exempt from the policy, said Michelle Savieo, director of the Allen County Office for the Department of Child Services.

But as an alternative, Child Services has already worked out a plan with the family court judges to use a landline phone if needed, she said.

“We do understand the importance of it. We not only advocate for the safety of children, but also court personnel as well,” said Savieo, who said her office has 55 caseworkers and about 20 are in the Courthouse at different times on a given day.

Another side effect of the ban will be that visitors will no longer be allowed to take pictures of the Courthouse. Commercial photographers will have to schedule photos after the Courthouse is closed for the day.

Media cameras will be the only cameras allowed inside the buildings during business hours, Gull said.

Though court security doesn’t anticipate any major problems with implementing the ban Tuesday, Gull asks people to be patient.

“Those that are complying with the ban are going to be in line trying to get through security with those who are aren’t aware of the ban, and those people are just going to have to be patient,” she said, “and recognize it’s a security measure and protection measure that we would hope people appreciate.”

Source: Ft Wayne Journal Gazette