URBAN – The Illinois Supreme Court has decided to enter the 21st century and allow the general public to bring cell phones and other portable electronic devices to county courts.
The High Court leaves the choice to individual counties. Champaign County has decided to embrace the change by lifting a 10-year ban.
“In Champaign County, the consensus of stakeholders is that this is a question of access to justice,” said President Randy Rosenbaum, who also serves as chief judge for the six counties of the Sixth Circuit. “People have to look at calendars, witnesses have to check their availability, litigants could have evidence such as texts and photos on their phones. Stakeholders including myself have concluded that we should lift the ban, but we will still have rules. “
The Illinois Supreme Court issued its new policy on Thursday.
“The court has to adapt to the times and this is an important way to meet the needs of court users,” said Supreme Court President Anne Burke. “It is no longer realistic to ask people to leave cell phones and other electronic devices at home when they visit the courts.”
Rosenbaum said the state circuit chief judges were aware that the Illinois Supreme Court was contemplating the change, but said they were taken by surprise to see the policy passed on Thursday.
He, Sheriff Dustin Heuerman, who is in charge of court security, Public Defender Janie Miller, and State Attorney Julia Rietz all favored the change and exchanged emails on Friday about an order for Champaign County.
Phones will be allowed from January 18, giving the sheriff time to prepare the signals and court security officers will update on the dos and don’ts of cell phone use.
Rosenbaum said he will let the other counties in the circuit make their own phone decisions. Those who choose to continue banning them must provide free storage. Macon, Moultrie, and DeWitt counties do it now.
Champaign County has lockers on the edge of the parking lot east of the courthouse that cost 25 admissions per use.
Among the highlights of the order that Rosenbaum is working on:
The devices cannot be used in a courtroom except when a judge allows lawyers, self-represented parties, witnesses and the press to check calendars, present information related to the case, or for some other specific purpose.
No member of the public may take photos, audio, or video in a courtroom except for ceremonial events such as weddings and graduations in problem-solving courts. The Sixth Circuit press has been able to take photos, audio and video from December 2013, if an application has been submitted and approved for a specific case.
The devices can be used in lobbies and corridors as long as they do not disturb others, interfere with operations or threaten the safety of others.
Phones cannot be used to contact potential jurors or witnesses.
Those who break the rules could be despised and possibly jailed.
Sergeant Michelle Mennenga, supervisor of the sheriff’s officers who ensure the security of the courthouse, said officers “every day, all day” at the front door must turn away someone who ignored or missed the signs saying that cell phones are not allowed in court.
“Even with jurors having paperwork telling them not to bring phones,” she complained.
Those who bring phones have the option of taking them to their car or paying the 25 cents to store them in the outside locker.
“We can’t keep the phones and we can’t hide the phones on the property anywhere,” he said, saying many people have tried.
Mennenga said it’s no fun to tell people, especially in cold weather, that they have to turn around if they have a phone. His officers have made some exceptions for those with severe mobility problems who are only there for paperwork or a quick visit.
While the new rule is expected to speed up court access, it could pose a challenge for security officers who need to make sure no one registers in a courtroom.
“We’re going to be tough on that, at least for a while,” Rosenbaum said. “Courts are very private places in this sense. You can’t audio or video in a courtroom. This is illegal. “