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County To Begin Enforcing Courthouse Cell Phone Ban At 26th & Cal

Leighton Criminal Courts Building (CBS)

Leighton Criminal Courts Building (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Following a three-month grace period, Cook County will begin phasing in a ban on cell phones and other Internet-capable electronic devices at courthouses next week, starting with the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th and California.

The ban on cell phones, tablet computers, and other Internet and electronic communication devices originally was planned to be implemented in January, but Chief Judge Timothy Evans enacted a three-month grace period to allow courthouse visitors time to get familiar with the ban.

Enforcement will begin Monday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building, and will later be introduced at 12 other Cook County courthouses. Only the Daley Center courthouse will be exempt from the ban. The county also has five courthouses in the suburbs, five at Chicago police stations, the Juvenile Courthouse on the Near West Side, and the Domestic Violence courthouse in the West Loop.

Evans first announced the ban in December, citing complaints from judges about people using phones to photograph witnesses, judges, jurors, and attorneys; and about others texting testimony to other witnesses outside the courtroom.

“This ban is important to uphold our justice system and the safety of our courts,” Evans said Thursday in announcing the phase-in of the ban. “Intimidation will not be tolerated. Personal recording devices and cameras are not permitted in Illinois courtrooms.”

Evans said he wanted to start the ban at all 13 courthouses where it will take effect right away, but decided it made more sense to start with the Leighton courthouse, which is one of the busiest courthouses in the nation, and has the highest risk of a security breach.

“Of course the judges and I understand the ban presents an inconvenience for the public. I wish it were possible to just say to the people coming to court, ‘Please turn off your phones and devices.’ The simple fact is we have tried that, and it does not work. People either ignore or refuse to comply with the judges’ directions; and the Sheriff’s staff has confirmed that their deputies cannot prevent the misuse of these devices in the courtrooms,” Evans said.

Once the ban begins, anyone coming to the courthouse with a cell phone or other banned electronic device will be instructed to take it back to their car if they drove to court, or to place it in a storage area at the courthouse if they walked or took public transportation.
Anyone who violates the ban could be prosecuted for contempt of court.

Exempt from the ban are lawyers, judges, reporters, law enforcement officers, many government workers, jurors, building maintenance workers, domestic violence advocates and counselors, those seeking an order of protection or involved in the domestic violence assistance program, anyone required to wear an electronic monitoring device, and people with disabilities who need electronic devices to communicate.