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Article updated: 12/12/2012 4:55 PM

Chief judge bans cellphones at Cook County courthouses

By Barbara Vitello

If you have business at a Cook County courthouse in 2013, you'll have to handle it without your cellphone.

Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced that beginning Jan. 14, 2013, members of the public will not be allowed to bring cellphones or electronic devices into any Cook County courthouse facility where criminal matters are heard.

Courthouses where the ban will be in effect include the Third Municipal District Courthouse in Rolling Meadows, the Second Municipal District Courthouse in Skokie and the George Leighton Criminal Courts Building at 26th Street and California Avenue, in Chicago. The exception is the Richard J. Daley Center Courthouse in Chicago where civil matters, traffic offenses and misdemeanors are heard.

The ban includes laptops and tablets, devices that connect to the Internet or are capable of making video or audio recordings.

Evans issued the order after judges became concerned that people attending proceedings were "using their cellphones to photograph witnesses, judges, jurors and prospective jurors."

Judges "also said persons appeared to be texting testimony to witnesses waiting their turn to testify outside the courtroom, while others were attempting to stream live to media comments by judges from the bench," Evans said in a prepared statement.

"The court is sending a strong message to gang members and others that any attempts to intimidate witnesses, jurors, and judges in court will not be permitted," Evans said.

Anyone defying the ban could face contempt of court charges.

The order exempts individuals performing official court business including licensed attorneys, law enforcement officers, government employees, jurors and people reporting for jury service (subject to the trial judge's approval). It also exempts judges and former judges, maintenance and repair personnel and anyone authorized by order of court.

In those cases, people may use the electronic devices in public areas only, away from courtrooms.

Members of the media are also exempt from the ban.

The new policy allows judges to permit electronic devices in any courtroom in any court facility as they deem appropriate.

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