Controversy surrounds attorneys and their cell phones in Maryland courthouses. While some county circuit courts allow attorneys to bring cell phones and other electronic communication devices into their courthouses, some prohibit them if they have cameras and others ban them entirely. Today, cell phones are critical to attorneys who rely on them as an essential communication tool in their daily law practice, but contingent on the jurisdiction, they may or may not be able to carry their cell phone or communication device into a courthouse.
This poses problems for Maryland attorneys who need their cell phones and electronic communication devices with them at all times. Electronic devices have become a lifeline for attorneys who use them to check calendars, contact clients, communicate with the outside and keep up with their practices when they are in court. Practitioners need access to technology that is now required to practice law efficiently so they may better serve their clients.
Therefore, MSBA is proposing a uniform attorney cell phone policy for all Maryland circuit courts to allow attorneys to bring cell phones into courthouses. Essentially, this measure will give individual judges the discretion to allow cell phones in their courtrooms so the judge maintains control of his or her courtroom and may decide accordingly. This proposal, approved by MSBA’s Board of Governors on January 20, is now under consideration by the Maryland Conference of Circuit Court Judges.
This proposal hails from a comprehensive probe of circuit court cell phone policies launched by MSBA’s Special Cell Phone Committee (CPC) in 2007 with the support of the Conference of Circuit Court Judges. After collecting and assessing this information, the CPC team – consisting of Craig Little, Jason Hessler and Andy Radding – found that “courthouse cell phone policies for attorneys are all over the board,” so the Committee drafted a statewide, uniform cell phone policy to help attorneys bring their cell phones into all circuit courthouses.
“Attorneys need to carry their cell phones with them,” exclaims Little. “Our focus is on lawyers.” CPC’s study found that four county circuit courts – Allegany, Caroline, Queen Anne’s and Worcester – ban cell phones entirely while 13 ban cell phones with cameras, which are now standard equipment on cell phones. This study also found that many attorneys are unfamiliar with the cell phone policies of individual courthouses, and this causes confusion and sometimes confiscation.
Therefore, MSBA is proposing a uniform policy that bans the use of cell phones, beepers, pagers, laptop or other computer devices, text messaging, e-mailing or any other electronic communications or communication devices in courtrooms in session in every circuit court, except at the direction of the Court. It further specifies that any type of photographic, videographic or recording device is banned except with prior permission of the Court and outlines appropriate sanctions for violators.
The proposal also stipulates that attorneys must have a valid MSBA security identification pass, or equivalent, in their possession to be allowed to bring electronic devices into a circuit courthouse. Moreover, all electronic devices are to be rendered quiet or turned off before they are brought into any courtroom. The use of these devices in the hallways or any courthouse conference rooms should only be undertaken with care and concern so as not to interrupt or impinge on the proceedings taking place in nearby courtrooms.
MSBA’s Committee presented this proposal to the Conference of Circuit Court Judges on January 26 and it is currently under deliberation. Ultimately, MSBA hopes this proposal will help its members, enabling them to keep their cell phones and other devices with them in courthouses across the state to enhance their practice of law.