While courthouses can cause some people to break into a sweat, the similarities end there. However, more and more courthouses are starting to ban cell phones and electronic devices for similar reasons.
The Allen County courts in Fort Wayne are the latest to follow suit with federal courts and other courts around the country. Cell phones and all other electronic devices except laptops will be prohibited in most cases in the county ;s courthouses beginning Jan. 2, 2007, making Allen County one of the first counties in the state to enact such a ban not just in the courtrooms.
The ban includes the main courthouse, the courthouse annex (small claims), the Bud Meeks Justice Center, and the Allen County Juvenile Center.
Even out-of-town attorneys may be able to bring in phones if they practice often in the Allen County court buildings and apply for court-approved photo IDs. However, a statement from courthouse officials notes that the provision for attorneys applies only to attorneys and that other staff – such as runners and paralegals – will not be permitted to bring such devices into court buildings.
There will also be no provision to keep or store cell phones or other electronic devices anywhere inside the court buildings.
To obtain a court-approved photo ID for attorneys, there will be sessions Dec. 14 and 15 at the Allen County Law Library on the first floor of the Allen County Courthouse from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 4 p.m. both days. To obtain an ID at these sessions, attorneys must:
• Bring Certificate of Good Standing card, issued by the Supreme Court, and a valid driver ;s license.
• Complete an Attorney Photo ID Badge Form. Court staff will be available to assist and authorize completion of the form
• Have their photo taken by a courtapproved vendor.
Photo IDs will be processed and available for pick up in the Administrative Offices beginning Dec. 27. The cost of the photo ID card is $10.10.
Attorneys may also obtain photo ID cards after Dec. 15 by bringing the same documents to the Administrative Offices of the Allen Superior Court, Room 208 of the Allen County Courthouse.
After completing the Attorney Photo ID Badge Form, the attorney must take the form to the court-approved vendor: Indiana Stamp Co., 1319 Production Road, Fort Wayne, IN 46808. The vendor ;s phone number is (260) 424-5395. The cost of photo ID cards for attorneys who miss the Dec. 14 and 15 sessions is $22.50.
"There are a couple primary reasons for this ban," said Allen Superior Court Administrator Jerry Noble. "One is the nuisance factor – regardless of signage and announcements, the nuisance of cell phones going off in courtrooms remains. Officers in Superior and Circuit courts have issues and reports with this."
It should go without saying that it is simply polite and often required by courtroom warnings and signage to silence a cell phone in a courtroom setting.
"Beyond that, a security problem that has become an issue in recent weeks and months, is the use of cell phone cameras during trials and proceedings to record proceedings, take photos of witnesses, confidential informants, and deputy prosecutors," Noble said.
Another court that implemented a ban on electronics – and then lifted it a year later, handing the responsibility to the sheriff ;s department – was Elkhart County also because of the camera capabilities of electronic devices, according to Judge Terry C. Shewmaker in Goshen.
Noble added that photos have been taken in the Allen County court buildings on "multiple occasions," at least enough for the court to consider the security aspect of allowing – or not allowing – devices with camera-taking capabilities.
While Noble couldn ;t recall a specific time where someone ;s photo taken in a court building lead to intimidation, he did say, "Some would see the act of taking the photo as a threat. Phones have been confiscated with these photos on them. The surreptitious nature of using cell phone cameras in this way is a real concern to us."
To consider how to draft the rules prohibiting cell phones and electronic devices in the courthouses, Noble said he spoke with those who handle security matters at the federal court "to get a sense of how they do it."
"Federal courts, sometimes in the same judicial district, have taken differing policy approaches to wireless communication devices," according to an article in the April 2005 edition of "The Third Branch," the newsletter for the federal courts.
"Some ban them from the courthouse, while others allow them in with certain restrictions on usage. Some ban the general public from bringing in devices but make exceptions for attorneys, jurors, and others. Some courts require cell phones to be turned off, while others ask they be placed in the vibrate mode, and still others require them to be stored with the court security officers," stated the article, titled "Wireless Devices in Federal Courts."
Because of the differences, judges and court security personnel looked for official guidance from the Judicial Conference.
"We all came to the same conclusion," Chief Judge John W. Lungstrum, chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, was quoted in the article."Because of the varying views among judges and court security officers, and the differences in buildings, security procedures and technological sophistication among courts, no one-size-fits-all decision is possible at this time. Instead, we will give the courts the information that will help them develop their own informed policies."
However, Karen Redmond, of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts Office of Public Affairs, said the Judicial Conference "has urged all courts to make a policy about restrictions of wireless devices. Cell phones with the ability to take photos are already not allowed in the District courts and each court is adapting its own policy on how to handle that."
Noble said, "In the federal court, they ;ll hold phones for people, but their volume is so slight compared to ours. It ;s not something we can do."
Noble added that even the federal court won ;t hold cell phones every day.
"On days when they anticipate large numbers of people, such as when they hold naturalization ceremonies, they turn people away who have their cell phones with them," he said.
It remains to be seen whether other courts around the state will implement rules similar to those of Allen County, but other nonfederal courts in the United States in areas such as Baltimore, Detroit, and Illinois ; 9th Circuit (Knox, Warren, Henderson, Fulton, McDonough, and Hancock counties) have implemented similar bans on electronic devices with capabilities to secretly record or take photos in courthouses.