Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ban on phones stirs up courts
* Those with cell phones in criminal courtroom face jail time or fine.

June 29, 2009

By Ruth Ann Krause, Post-Tribune correspondent
A recent ban on cell phones in the criminal courts at the Lake County Government Center delayed testimony in an attempted murder trial after one of the jurors refused to give up the device and was arrested.

Lake Superior Court Judges Salvador Vasquez, Clarence Murray, Diane Ross Boswell and Thomas Stefaniak Jr., who preside over criminal division cases, signed an order two weeks ago banning cell phones, but visitors continue to bring their phones to the building.

Lake County Commissioners are also looking into the issue.

County Attorney John Dull said at the commissioners' request he sent Boswell, senior judge of the criminal division, a letter seeking clarification.

The order signed by the judges prohibits members of the general public from bringing cell phones into the courts building, but Dull pointed out the administration building and courts building are connected by a hallway. Someone could enter the administration building with a cell phone and walk into the courts building. In addition, there are civil courtrooms and other offices in the courts building.

Visitors in possession of a cell phone in a criminal courtroom could be held in contempt and be jailed or fined, according to the judges' order.

Last Monday, court security officers arrested a juror selected for an attempted murder case in Boswell's courtroom. The juror became upset after being told he couldn't bring his phone into court and was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Afterward, Boswell spent about an hour questioning the remaining 12 jurors and one alternate about whether the ruckus over the cell phone ban in court would affect their deliberations in the attempted murder case of Marlon Stringfellow.

During questioning by Boswell, several jurors said they were allowed to bring their cell phones, which typically are placed with other metal objects in a plastic bin and examined by court security officers while the visitor walks through a metal detector.

Since the courtroom ban went into effect, security officers ask visitors where they're going in the building. Those who say they're going to court are instructed to return their phones to the car.

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