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Editorial: Get courthouse cellphone ban right

Thursday, December 13, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

Good thing no one had a smart phone handy to record how clumsily Cook Countyís chief judge went about banning cellphones from criminal courthouses.

On Tuesday, Chief Judge Timothy Evans announced the public will be prohibited from bringing in cellphones, iPads and similar devices. He acted because of concerns that gang members and others were photographing witnesses, judges, jurors and potential jurors and appeared to be texting testimony to witnesses waiting outside courtrooms.

But Evans didnít notify other branches of county government that he was imposing the ban, which is scheduled to take effect Jan. 14 at all 13 facilities where criminal cases are heard. He should rectify that oversight as soon as possible by getting input from all affected parties and changing the start date if necessary.

We agree that authorities canít allow the use of digital devices to compromise the criminal justice system.

But Evans also must consider the needs of other county agencies and the public.

For example, the sheriff will need to install new kiosks so people will have a safe place to store their phones and tablets. Only the Leighton courthouse has kiosks right now, and theyíre the wrong size for iPads.

Also, some other agencies share buildings with the courts. How will their patrons gain access without running afoul of the cellphone ban?

Many people take public transit to the courthouses, so they canít just stow their phone in a car. And those who do drive will require extra parking security so thieves canít score an iPad bonanza while everyone is in court.

Outside of the county jail, which has strict security measures, you already can see people trying to hide personal items along California Avenue before they go inside to visit someone. Letís not replicate that scene outside the courthouses.

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