Citing an increasing concern that gang members are using handheld electronic devices to influence courtroom proceedings, the top judge in Cook County announced today the general public will be barred from bringing cell phones, tablet computers and other electronic devices into criminal courthouses.
Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans said all electronic devices “capable of connecting to the Internet or making audio or video recordings” would be banned from all but the Daley Center. The order signed by Evans today goes in effect in mid-January at all 13 criminal court facilities in the county. The Daley Center was excluded since mostly civil matters are handled there.
Evans said the move was prompted after criminal judges complained that people attending court proceedings were using cell phones to photograph witnesses, judges and jurors. Some judges also said spectators “appeared to be texting testimony to witnesses waiting their turn to testify outside the courtroom,” he said.
“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 violating the ban could face prosecution for contempt of court, Evans said.
Current and former judges, licensed attorneys, law enforcement officers, government employees and members of the public reporting for jury service will all be allowed to keep their electronic devices, Evans said. Members of the news media are also exempted from the ban.
The crackdown comes as Cook County nears allowing cameras in courtrooms on an experimental basis – a plan that has been enthusiastically supported by Evans.