On October 23, MSBA’s Board of Governors endorsed a new cell phone policy permitting attorneys to bring electronic devices into all courtrooms and courthouses in Maryland. This proposed policy now heads to the Court of Appeals’ Rules Committee for its review. Today, electronic devices are critical to Maryland attorneys who rely on them as a vital communication tool in the daily practice of law. Therefore, MSBA is pushing for an attorney cell phone policy so lawyers can carry electronic devices into all state courthouses and courtrooms.
Last January, MSBA endorsed a proposed uniform cell phone policy allowing Maryland attorneys to keep such vital law practice tools as cell phones and electronic devices with them in the state’s circuit courthouses. This universal proposal banned 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.
When the Court’s Rules Committee considered this proposal on October 5, it voted not to recommend a universal rule for all courts, leaving cell phone court policies contingent on each local jurisdiction. So, currently 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.
MSBA recognizes that cell phones are now a lifeline for attorneys. They use them to check calendars, contact clients, communicate with the outside and keep up with their practices when they are in court. Often attorneys are lost without them and cannot even check calendars for dates at the request of a judge, for scheduling purposes, unless they have the device with them. So, MSBA went back to the drawing board and drafted a modified policy.
MSBA’s newly proposed cell phone policy does not place a ban on cell phones with certain exceptions, as did its predecessor. Rather, it permits attorneys to bring cell phones into all Maryland courthouses instead of banning them. Essentially, it requires that attorneys have a valid MSBA security identification pass to bring them in; defines electronic devices; and specifies that all devices be rendered quiet before the attorney enters the courtroom. Further, it bans any type of photographic, videographic or recording device except with prior permission of the Court and outlines appropriate sanctions for violators.
“This proposed cell phone policy permits lawyers to bring their electronic devices with them into Maryland courtrooms and courthouses,” explains Jason Hessler, a member of MSBA’s Special Cell Phone Committee (CPC). Both proposed policies hail from a comprehensive probe of circuit court cell phone policies conducted by CPC in 2007. 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 were 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. Now, it has modified this proposal.
MSBA supports a court cell phone policy for lawyers so they may practice law as efficiently as possible and effectively serve their clients. Its newly modified proposal still gives judges the ability to control their courtrooms while allowing lawyers to practice law when they are in court.