By Brad Edwards

CHICAGO (CBS) — They’re a lifeline in many cases, but they’re also the latest high-tech intimidation tool enlisted by gangs.

As of Jan. 14, 2013, cell phones will be banned from numerous cook county courthouses.

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“I would say it is a step that became necessary,” Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans tells CBS 2’s Brad Edwards.

Gang members, he says, “will not be permitted to intimidate justice in this county.”

Currently, cell phones are allowed on the premises, but they’re not allowed to be used in court.

The judge says gang members have sat in public areas at the courthouses and taken pictures of judges or witnesses or texted testimony.

“That provides a chilling effect on justice,” Evans says.

The ban will take place at 13 facilities – with exception to lawyers and others:

·               The George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building at 2600 S. California Ave., Chicago, commonly known as “26th and Cal.”

·               The Cook County Juvenile Center, 1100 West Hamilton Ave., Chicago

·               The Domestic Violence Courthouse, 555 West Harrison St., Chicago

·               The Second Municipal District Skokie Courthouse, 5600 Old Orchard Road

·               The Third Municipal District Rolling Meadows Courthouse, 2121 Euclid Road

·               The Fourth Municipal District Maywood Courthouse, 1500 Maybrook Drive

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·               The Fifth Municipal District Bridgeview Courthouse, 10220 S. 76th Ave.

·               The Sixth Municipal District Markham Courthouse, 16501 S. Kedzie Parkway

·               5555 W. Grand Ave., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 23 and 50)

·               2452 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 29 and 42)

·               155 W. 51st St., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 34 and 48)

·               727 E. 111th St., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 35 and 38)

·               3150 W. Flournoy St., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 43 and 44)

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose department staffs courthouses, says he is concerned about enforcement.

Right now, for example, 5,000 people use the criminal court building at 26th and California.  There are only a few storage lockers where phones can be stowed.

How many are needed?

“We have no clue,” says a law enforcement source.

“This order creates significant consideration,” Dart says in a statement to CBS 2.  “Further discussions need to occur to make sure the transition occurs without incident.”

Evans insists the policy shift is a top priority.

“The quest for justice is so vital that a step like this becomes necessary,” he says.

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Both Evans and Dart agree a significant public awareness campaign needs to take place to get the word out.

Brad Edwards