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No-phone zones might be called for in Indy courts

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Judges in Marion County were rightly troubled recently by multiple instances of cellphone video taken in court winding up online, which included secretly recorded video of a criminal informant’s testimony.

Now, an outright ban on cellphones in Marion County courts is among the restrictions judges are considering.
 

phones-15col.jpg Signs on courtrooms enforce cellphone silence, but judges are considering a total ban. (IL Photo/ Aaron P. Bernstein)

“We’re looking at what colleagues in other counties are doing to protect the process,” Marion Superior Court administrator Andrea Newsom said.

“I do think it is a challenge for the court and court staff to sort of keep an eye on what’s going on,” with cellphones in courts, she said. “More than anything, the judges are concerned that the safety of the litigants is protected,” as well as the safety of attorneys and court staff.

Such concerns prompted Indiana’s other largest counties to conclude years ago that the courtroom is no place for devices capable of recording testimony through photos or video. Lake, Allen and St. Joseph counties – the state’s second-, third- and forth-most populous counties – have zero-tolerance policies on cellphones, tablets or other devices in courtrooms. Even some smaller counties, such as Steuben, have banned cellphones in court.

Allen County appears to have the most restrictive policy: Devices aren’t even allowed in the courthouse unless you are an attorney or other authorized person with ID.

Jerry Noble, administrator for Allen Superior Court, said the experience of gang trials and serious felonies in the past 10 years led to the prohibition.

“When we had jurors being photographed in the hallways and other places in the courthouse, and criminal informants and prosecuting attorneys and that kind of thing, we felt it was important enough to do that,” Noble said referring to the cellphone ban.

“We’re a metropolitan court, and our criminal division judges consistently rank in the top five in sheer volume of jury trial activity,” he said. “In certain types of cases, maybe you’ve got gang members involved. It’s not that infrequent to have that kind of trial, and that was a conversation that drove us to this point.”

Security personnel encountered some bumps enacting the policy initially.

“The first year or two, members of the public would express frustration and be upset,” Noble said. There still are occasional grumbles, but “our frequent fliers, so to speak, are pretty well accustomed to it.”

Allen County on July 19 lifted its ban on cameras for one day to allow media to take photos of evidence in the forthcoming trial of Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer David Bisard. A change of venue moved Bisard’s trial on reckless homicide and multiple operating while intoxicated charges from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne. Bisard is accused of killing motorcyclist Eric Wells and injuring two others, Kurt Weekly and Mary Mills, who were stopped at an Indianapolis intersection when Bisard crashed his police cruiser into the cyclists in 2010. Test results from a blood draw after the accident showed Bisard had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.19.

Marion County would likely run into some difficulty following Allen County’s lead. Screeners currently run people through security at the door of the City-County Building in Indianapolis, but separating court visitors from those going to other government offices would be a challenge. The location of courtrooms on multiple floors increases the challenge.

Like Marion County, larger neighboring counties including Hamilton and Johnson post signs and admonish those in court to turn off their phones or devices, but it’s common for ringtones to punctuate proceedings. Johnson Circuit Judge Mark Loyd said he doesn’t find the occasional noise too much of a nuisance, “though I’m sure some of my brothers and sisters on the bench range in irritation all the way up to bombastic.”

But Loyd did once catch a litigant recording witness testimony while a separation of witnesses order was in effect. Loyd confiscated the litigant’s phone, but he acknowledges judges are in no position to try to spot surreptitious cellphone use while presiding.

“It’s extra difficult unless you put together a procedure ahead of time to accomplish the end goal,” he said. In his court, that includes beginning each session by telling people that cellphones should not be on in the courtroom, and any that are will be confiscated. Most people comply with that, he said.

Massiel Krall, deputy administrator for Hamilton County courts, said a local rule prohibits use of cellphones in court, and anyone caught using a cellphone risks being found in contempt.

Regulation of cellphones is left to local courts. The state makes no recommendation on best practices and doesn’t track various policies around Indiana, according to Indiana Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan.

In Indiana’s second-largest county, cellphones are detected when people walk through a magnetometer on the way inside the courthouse, said Sgt. Mike Modrak, who works court security for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department. For the public entering, no phones pass.

Modrak said the policy in Lake County has been in effect for about five years. Exceptions are made for attorneys, court staff and sometimes media in high-profile cases.

“Cellphones are not allowed in court, not even in the hallway or the waiting areas,” he said. Same goes for recording devices. The devices also are forbidden in the probation department.

Lake and St. Joseph county courts followed Allen County’s lead in crafting their own restrictive policies, but both ultimately made it clear that any benefits of allowing cellphones in court were outweighed by the risks.

“You have to draw the line,” Modrak said. “You can’t be iffy.”•

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  1. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  2. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

  3. Family court judges never fail to surprise me with their irrational thinking. First of all any man who abuses his wife is not fit to be a parent. A man who can't control his anger should not be allowed around his child unsupervised period. Just because he's never been convicted of abusing his child doesn't mean he won't and maybe he hasn't but a man that has such poor judgement and control is not fit to parent without oversight - only a moron would think otherwise. Secondly, why should the mother have to pay? He's the one who made the poor decisions to abuse and he should be the one to pay the price - monetarily and otherwise. Yes it's sad that the little girl may be deprived of her father, but really what kind of father is he - the one that abuses her mother the one that can't even step up and do what's necessary on his own instead the abused mother is to pay for him???? What is this Judge thinking? Another example of how this world rewards bad behavior and punishes those who do right. Way to go Judge - NOT.

  4. Right on. Legalize it. We can take billions away from the drug cartels and help reduce violence in central America and more unwanted illegal immigration all in one fell swoop. cut taxes on the savings from needless incarcerations. On and stop eroding our fourth amendment freedom or whatever's left of it.

  5. "...a switch from crop production to hog production "does not constitute a significant change."??? REALLY?!?! Any judge that cannot see a significant difference between a plant and an animal needs to find another line of work.

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