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Courthouse Cell Phone Ban Begins Monday

By DNAinfo Staff on April 14, 2013 8:02am

 Michael Scott, 57, makes one last call from his cell phone before leaving the Cook County Criminal Courthouse.
Michael Scott, 57, makes one last call from his cell phone before leaving the Cook County Criminal Courthouse.
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DNAinfo/Wendell Hutson

CHICAGO — No cell phones or internet-capable devices will be allowed in the Cook County Criminal Courthouse at 26th and California beginning Monday.

The ban is meant to protect the safety of witnesses and victims testifying in court from intimidation, Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans said.

Gang members have taken pictures of judges and witnesses with their phones and texted testimony to their friends awaiting trial, Evans said.

"No juror or witness should ever be afraid because a defendant's supporters are taking their pictures," Evans said in a statement.

People who drive to the courthouse will be asked to keep their phones and electronics in their cars. The courthouse will have limited storage available for those who arrive by public transportation, according to a statement.

Sheriff's deputies have reminded people passing through security for at least several weeks about the impending complete ban.

Evans acknowledged the ban is "an inconvenience for the public" in his statement, but said sheriff's deputies have not been able to control the use of phones in court.

"I wish it were possible to just say to the people coming to court, 'Please turn off your phones and devices.' The simple fact is we have tried that, and it does not work," Evans said. "People either ignore or refuse to comply with the judges' directions; and the Sheriff's staff has confirmed that their deputies cannot prevent the misuse of these devices in the courtrooms."

The ban was originally intended to go into effect in mid-January but was pushed back to provide a "grace period."

The ban will take effect at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse, at one of the busiest courthouses in the country, and on a rolling basis in 12 other Cook County courthouses once they receive storage capabilities.

In Evans' January order, he expanded the list of those exempt from the ban to include domestic violence advocates and victims.

Others who are exempt are those who need electronics for disabilities, attorneys, current or former judges, members of the media, and city, state and federal employees.

Although some people were irked by the ban when it was first announced, others saw it as necessary to protect witnesses.