COURT SECURITY QUARTERLY
CELLPHONES: TO BAN OR NOT TO BAN? THAT IS THE QUESTION
Recently, there have been a number of incidents regarding use of cell phones in and around the
courthouse. It seems many of us have either experienced or heard stories of jurors doing research on
their blackberry while in deliberations, or texting family or friends while in the jury room and
commenting on or discussing the case. Lately, additional concerns have arisen as an increase of
violence at the courthouse has cell phones at the core of the problem – most notably in King County
Juvenile Court, which is located within a particular “turf” of gang “X”. Members of gang “X” have
used their cell phones to take pictures of rival gang members who appear at court. These pictures
are then sent via cell phone to other gang “X” members, who respond by waiting for the rival to
leave court, where he or she is met with gunfire.
Of course, most, if not all, of us remember the world before cell phone use became so widespread.
Cell phones are now seen by many as a necessity, although we survived all those years without
them. All of us have been interrupted in the courtroom by the annoying ring – or song – from a
defendant’s cell phone, despite repeated requests by the judge, clerks, and security to turn off all cell
phones in the courtroom. Is it necessary for defendants, witnesses, or observers to keep their cell
phones on during their time in the courtroom? And if you ban cell phones from your court room,
what of the attorneys who inevitably text and receive texts while sitting at counsel table during a
hearing? What of attorneys who research using their cell phones while seated at counsel table?
Even while not ringing, an attorney’s vibrating cell phone still creates a distraction to jurors trying to
listen to testimony or argument.
Washington does not have a statewide policy regarding the presence or use of cell phones in the
courtroom. In fact, very few states have statewide policies regarding cell phones in or around the
courtroom. Florida, however, does ban cell phones in the courtroom (court staff is exempt), and
requires attorneys to place all laptops and electronic devices in secure lockers before entering the
courtroom. North Carolina and South Dakota also have similar bans in place. But, for most of the
country, as in Washington, it is a policy determination made by each individual court.
When electronic devices are used as widely as cell phones are, and when they become primary tools
leading to violence, judges need to seriously consider developing policy to restrict their use in and
around the courtroom. Our job as judges does not simply entail sound decision-making in the
courtroom. We need to ensure that we provide a safe environment for the employees, defendants,
witnesses, jurors, visitors and all those who are called to court or who may need the services of the
court. We cannot turn a blind eye to the potential threat cell phones may pose. Please take time to
answer the following questions and forward them back to your court security committee. Any and
all input is greatly appreciated.
With gratitude and wishes for a safe 2010,
The BJA Court Security Committee
Court Cell Phone Policy Questionnaire
1. Does your court have a policy (written or unwritten) regarding cell phones in the court room?
Yes, we have a cell phone policy No, we don’t have a cell phone policy.
If yes, please state briefly what your policy is:
2. Should Washington have a statewide policy for cell phones in court?
Yes, there should be a statewide policy. No. Policy should be set by the local courts.
3. Rather than a state wide cell phone policy, would courts prefer a guideline for use of cell phones
in and around the court room?
Yes, guidelines would be sufficient. No, we need a statewide cell phone policy.
4. Should courts ban all cell phones from the courtroom?
Yes. All cell phones should be banned from the courtroom.
No. Cell phones should not be banned from the courtroom.
5. If courts ban cell phones from the court room, should there be exceptions, such as attorneys,
court staff, and interpreters, and people who have a cell phone but nowhere to store it during
their hearing (no vehicle for example)?
Exceptions should be made for:
Attorneys Staff Interpreters Other
If exceptions are allowed, what types of restrictions should there be?
No exceptions should be made.
6. If cell phones are banned from the courtroom, should they also be banned from the courthouse?
7. Other concerns/issues regarding cell phones:
BOARD FOR JUDICIAL ADMINISTRATION
Court Security Committee Members
Judge John Lohrmann (co-chair) Judge Janis Whitener-Moberg (co-chair)
Superior Court Judges’ Association District and Municipal Court Judges’ Association
Jeffrey Beaver Judge Elizabeth Cordi-Bejarano
Washington State Bar Association District and Municipal Court Judges’ Association
Judge Steven González Craig Daly
Superior Court Judges’ Association Washington Assn of Juvenile Court Administrators
Justice Mary Fairhurst Suzanne Elsner
Washington State Supreme Court District and Municipal Court Management Assn
Association of Washington Superior Court
Washington State Association of County Clerks
Chief Robert Spinks
Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police
Rick Coplen Karen Castillo
Administrative Office of the Courts Administrative Office of the Courts
Be sure to test your court security equipment
before April 15, 2010!
Equipment should be tested once each year,
and Tax Day is an easy day to remember.
So, tag that as your Equipment Test Day as well!
Court Security Incident Reports
Don’t forget to report all court security incidents. Security Incident Report forms are