McLean County plans to keep its courthouse cell phone ban despite the Illinois Supreme Court’s policy shift
The Illinois Supreme Court is allowing counties to relax rules on the use of cell phones and other portable devices in county courthouses if they wish, but McLean County plans to keep its cell phone ban in place.
The state's high court issued the policy change on Jan. 6.
“The courts must adapt with the times, and this is an important way to address the needs of court users,” said Chief Justice Anne Burke. “It is no longer realistic to ask people to leave cell phones and other electronics at home when they visit courthouses."
McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage oversees security for the Law and Justice Center in downtown Bloomington, where all court proceedings in McLean County are held. He said the ban will stay.
“Our ultimate objective is that people feel safe in the courthouse,” Sandage said. “We had some situations where people did not feel safe, whether they be testifying or on a jury.”
Sandage said he spoke with Mark Fellheimer, chief judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit, before deciding to keep the ban in place.
Sandage said judges can still allow phone use if a witness needs it to produce evidence, or an attorney needs it for scheduling purposes. They also are allowed at weddings and other ceremonial events.
Reporters also have permission to use mobile devices in court. Fellheimer said it's more manageable to let media photographers into court to cover select cases than it is to allow the general public to use phones.
“If you’ve got someone on the witness stand and someone is taking pictures and we can’t see everything going on, it’s a problem,” he said.
The phones are not only outlawed in the courtrooms, but the entire Law and Justice Center. That includes the circuit clerk's office where civil and criminal court cases are filed.
Sandage said there's no practical way to separate those offices from the courtrooms.
“It would lead to a lot of confusion, I think, and it would lead to a lot more work for our court security deputies to enforce that,” Sandage said.
Fellheimer noted the county also provides no-cost lockers for people who need to leave their cell phones after they go through security, another rule outlined in the Illinois Supreme Court order.
Sandage and Fellheimer said they will continue to monitor the situation to see if changes are needed in the future.