Cell phones no longer will take a court break

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By Marie E. Matyjaszek

There are a multitude of items that can’t be brought into a courthouse, with weapons arguably being the most obvious.

Depending on the county, the list of prohibited items may vary. Knitting needles, nail files and clippers are items that you may not think of, but they are a “no-no” in multiple counties. If you’re considering wearing your brass knuckles, bringing your curling iron, bingo markers or dental floss to your court hearing, don’t go to Wayne County. Be mindful of your attire as well, because there are rules governing your pants, shorts, shirts and other apparel. One of the best outfits I saw at a courthouse was a shirt that read: “Only God can judge me.” I bet the judge was impressed with that.

Starting May 1, 2020, one of the biggest prohibitions will be lifted – bringing cell phones and other electronic devices into court (MCR 8.115). Many courthouses only allow attorneys and selected individuals to carry these devices with them. With permission, the general public can bring phones or devices to a hearing for an express purpose; generally, if it has evidence on it that the party wished to introduce at the hearing. 

Attorneys skirted around this rule by carrying their clients’ phones into the courthouse – after all, it’s fairly common for people to have a business and personal cell phone. However, if you didn’t have an attorney, and didn’t think to ask for permission, you could be at a disadvantage compared to others.

A good number of people attend court for their family law case. If you are a working parent, the chances that your kids are in daycare or school are high. It can be nerve-wracking to be without your phone when your child is at daycare, or your first-grader has a medical concern. You may not learn about an extremely important phone call until hours later.  If both parents are at the hearing, as is often the case, the daycare or school has to move on to other emergency contacts who may not be as reliable. The cell phone prohibition can have a trickle down negative effect.

Pursuant to the new change, people also can use their device to take pictures of court records, which helps eliminate the cost barrier for those who don’t have the money necessary to obtain the copies. As a side note, I’ve never found a courthouse with a decent copier, and most people don’t carry $20 in loose change on a regular basis.

Not everyone is happy with the new rule – there are valid concerns relative to disruptive behavior, unapproved recording and communication, and taking pictures of witnesses and jurors. Under provisions of the new law, devices must be silenced during proceedings and the court can address disruptive behavior.

With the world moving in lockstep with advances in technology, the new rule is not unexpected and will be largely welcomed by those tied to their smart phones.

(The author is an Attorney Referee at the Washtenaw County Friend of the Court; however, the views expressed in this column are her own. She can be reached by e-mailing her at matyjasz@hotmail.com.)


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