Banning cell phones in the justice center is not so easy

Robert Houk • Updated Feb 12, 2018 at 9:15 PM

Judges in Washington County would like to ban cell phones in the George P. Jaynes Justice Center, but agree doing so might be easier said than done. When the issue came up at meeting of the Washington County Courthouse Security Committee on Monday, members raised concerns over possible exemptions and questioned how such a cell ban would be enforced.

Chancellor John Rambo, who heads the committee, said he and his fellow judges have no problems with a formal policy to keep cell phones out the justice center, but added such a policy must be something the Washington County Sheriff's Office could agree with.

"I don't think judges have any problem with that responsibility," Rambo said. "We control the courtrooms, and what comes through the front doors end up in the courtrooms."

Rambo said he and his colleagues would have to come up with a waiver for phones being used in the evidentiary process. The chancellor said the courts hope to "train people to print out their emails and text messages instead of flipping through their phones in court."

Rambo and other committee members said attorneys and the justice center staff should be exempted from a cell phone ban. First Judicial District Attorney General Tony Clark said there might be others who should be exempted from the policy, including the news media and bail bonding officials.

"We will have to make a list," Clark said.

Committee members also said the same rues should apply to the purses and bags to be scanned at the justice center's entrance. Washington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Leighta Laitinen told the committee any such policy "should be clear for deputies to enforce."

After hearing that, Rambo said the committee "was not in a position to make a decision on a cell phone cells."

In other business, the committee voted to add glass partitions inside the justice center's courtrooms 1-4 to allow attorneys to confer with their clients.

Committee members also heard a plan to add a glass vestibule outside the entrance to the justice center. County Mayor Dan Eldridge said the new 40-foot enclosure would improve the center's entrance from both an "environmental and security perspective."

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