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Cellphone ban starts on Monday

Friday, April 12, 2013
Chicago Daily Law Bulletin
by Mary Kate Malone

Implementation of a ban on cellphones in most Cook County courthouses has been pushed back and, for now, will only be enforced at the Leighton Criminal Court Building.

The ban was supposed to take effect at all Cook County courthouses except the Daley Center starting Monday.

Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans said in a statement Thursday that he decided to wait to implement the rule at 12 other facilities until more storage units are installed to hold visitors' electronic devices.

He did not specify a time frame.

"I wish we could enact the ban in all 13 courthouses immediately," the statement said. "However, from the court's view, it makes more sense to begin enforcement of the ban at the Leighton Criminal Court Building where the potential for security breaches is highest due to the sheer volume of cases heard there seven days a week."

The ban, which applies to any electronic device capable of connecting to the Internet or making audio and video recordings, will not be enforced against lawyers or judges.

Beginning Monday, anyone arriving at the Leighton courthouse with a cellphone who is not exempt from the ban, will be asked to place the phone in his or her car.

If they do not arrive by car, they will be directed to on-site storage units where they can leave their devices for a $3 fee.

The units contain 180 storage spaces, said Anna B. Ashcraft, director of the Cook County Real Estate Management Division.

"We make no representation that it will be adequate storage to suit the needs of everyone who enters the courthouse," Ashcraft said in a statement. "That is the space, however, that is available."

Evans first announced the ban in December, and it was originally scheduled to take effect Jan. 14 in every courthouse except the Daley Center.

He said the ban became necessary after spectators began using their cellphones to take pictures of jurors or witnesses as an intimidation tactic.

But domestic violence groups said the ban could compromise the safety of abuse victims coming to the Domestic Violence Courthouse to get help and others said the courthouses did not have adequate storage units for visitor phones.

Evans responded by delaying implementation until Monday and expanding the list of exempted groups to include domestic violence advocates and counselors as well as individuals going to a courthouse to obtain orders of protection.

He said the new "rolling implementation" plan at the remaining courthouses will allow time for the facilities to install more storage units.

Ashcraft said her office has spent the last three months "preparing storage solutions" at the Juvenile Court and the Domestic Violence Courthouse and each will have 60 storage spaces. A similar number will be available at most of the remaining courthouses by June.

Eleni Demertzis, a spokeswoman for the Cook County sheriff's office, said the office hopes people are aware of the ban on Monday.

If the storage units become full, "there's nothing we can do," she said.

"We have to implement the rule, and the rule is, you can't bring in any electronic devices starting Monday," she said. "We're going to try our best to make it work."

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