Why aren't cell phones allowed in the Erie County Courthouse?
A ban on cell phones at the Erie County Courthouse has been in place for almost four years.
Everyone other than workers, attorneys and media members with credentials can bring in cell phones, computers and the like into the courthouse.
Erie County Juvenile Court Judge Robert DeLamatre, one of four Erie County Common Pleas Court judges, provided the following answer as to why that is and if it the policy will change:
My current policy view is that the rule has fulfilled it's purpose and should probably stay in place. Originally, I was a proponent for even more ridged rules that would have prohibited more people than was ultimately agreed to, but that is my personal opinion based on my job which has much more confidentiality than the other courts.
The reasons for the rule are numerous. Most frequently the phones were simply causing disruptions of court proceedings by going off during hearings. The rule has virtually eliminated this issue.
In juvenile court, we had several people who were taking pictures of youth appearing before the court, and a few even ended up posted on the web. This has been eliminated by the rule. The other judges expressed concern over those issues as well as reporting concerns of pictures of jurors had being taken by audience members and they feared intimidation would occur as a result.
Next, juror's use of devices to research issues during trial was expressed as a concerns. These issues have all been seen in other courthouses as well as ours. While the rules vary from county to county, virtually all courts now have rules in place to address these issues. These issues are virtually eliminated as a result of the rule.
When we discussed this rule with the courthouse security committee, they express concerns about the breadth of the proposal and exceptions were discussed. The bar association argued that attorney's need their phones for scheduling and the like. Employees argued that they need their phones for work purposes and that they generally are not in court proceedings therefore unlikely to disrupt/corrupt in some way. The press and other professionals entering the building were also mentioned as necessary to fulfill their job duties. As a result, we made the exceptions that exist today which was calculated to balance the need for a phone with the issues I mentioned above. Circumstances outside those exceptions are to be dealt with by the appropriate/assigned Judge who all have authority to waive the restriction on a case by case basis.
I do not anticipate a change to the rule at this time. Actually the rules can be imposed or changed in a few different ways. Most commonly in other counties, the rules are part of the Court's local rules of practice. We decided to approach it from the courthouse security angle since several divisions are housed in the same building and creating new rules for multiple divisions was more difficult than one rule and lastly because the most concerning issues relate to safety and security (witness intimidation, unauthorized recording/pictures, corruption of the court proceedings). County policies approved by the Commissioners can also set regulations on this issue.
Hopefully, this helps you understand the dynamics of the rule. If you need anything else or if you have other questions let me know.