New courthouse electronics policy starts Tuesday

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URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — Come Tuesday, people who stop by the Champaign County Courthouse will be able to bring their cell phone, tablet, or other electronic device inside — as long as they follow a strict set of rules.

A recent order from Presiding Judge Randy Rosenbaum removes some restrictions on the current policy, which does not allow everyday people to bring devices inside. Attorneys, the media, and other courthouse staff may do so.

Highlights of this new order include:

  • Devices may be used in lobbies and hallways as long as they don’t disrupt or threaten others.
  • Devices, with limited exceptions, may not be used to record people involved in cases, such as a witness at a trial.
  • Everyday people may not use a device in a courtroom, with limited exceptions. For example, people may check their calendar to see about availability for a future court date.
  • No one can take photos or videos during a court hearing aside from media members who have advance permission.
  • People may not use a device to talk to a potential juror or witness.
  • Recording equipment – like a camera – may not be brought in the courthouse unless it’s for an approved event, like a wedding, graduation from a problem solving court, or the media covering a case.

The order said anyone who breaks the rules may be removed from the courthouse or found in contempt of court, which could mean jail time. Officials could also take the person’s device until they leave.

Judge Rosenbaum’s change gives greater freedom and convenience for people who need their device at the courthouse for a legitimate purpose, such as a juror reading an e-book to pass the time or a person representing themself in court checking documents. However, the sheriff’s deputies who monitor the courthouse will now have to be on alert for people using their phones for no good.

The Urbana courthouse’s device policy has varied over the years. Now-retired Judge Tom Difanis had tightened the rules over fears of witnesses being harassed and recorded.

On January 6, the Illinois Supreme Court adopted a policy saying each county courthouse must have rules on devices. Among other things, the high court said courthouses that ban everyday people from bringing devices inside must provide free storage.

“The courts must adapt with the times, and this is an important way to address the needs of court
users,” Chief Justice Anne M. Burke said in a statement. “It is no longer realistic to ask people to leave cell
phones and other electronics at home when they visit courthouses.

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