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November 28, 2007

Cell Phones in the Courtroom: A Big No-No

I spend a good deal of time in the courtroom.  The signs almost unanimously read "No Food, No Gum Chewing, Turn Off All Cell Phones and Pagers."  Most courtrooms have very heavy calendars comprised of a variety of different cases with a plethora of varied issues.  In order to facilitate the meting out of justice, a judge must have the ability to focus on each individual matter as though it were the only matter before him.  Although in an exalted position, a judge is only human sometimes reacts in a manner which is, well, human.

Shubb_cell_phone This issue became of interest to me when I read an article on newsreview.com entitled "Short Fuse."  In this particular case (back in 2006), U.S. District Court Judge William Shubb flung a cell phone belonging to a 68 year old woman into the hallway after it rang and rang and rang in her purse.  The lady couldn't find it in time to shut it off and the judge became irate.  Read the article, it's a doozie.

I started digging around the web and found some more goodies in the courtroom-cell phone genre. A November 27, 2007 New York Times article entitled A Judge's 'Inexplicable Madness' Over A Cellphone by Danny Hakim  relates how Judge Robert M. Restaino arrested everyone in his courtroom because one person's cell phone went off.   His behavior was deemed so outrageous by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct that he was removed from the bench!  From The Legal Reader:

"In causing 46 individuals to be deprived of their liberty out of pique and frustration, respondent abandoned his role as a reasonable, fair jurist and instead became a petty tyrant, abusing his judicial power and placing himself above the law he was shown to administer," the commission concluded.

Although the judge's behavior constituted an isolated incident, his conduct brought the judiciary into "disrepute" and irreparably damaged public confidence in his ability to remain a judge, the commission held. 

Read the Commission's decision

In doing even more digging, I found many articles on proper courtroom behavior.  Almost all include a blurb on the non-use of a cell phone in the courtroom.  The People's Media Company published A Guide to Proper Courtroom Behavior which elaborates on appropriate attire, no gum/candy, punctuality, preparedness and, of course, cell phone etiquette. 

Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your cell phone. You know what? Turn off your cell phone. When a judge hears that phone ring, or sing a song, anything you have to say after that moment will fall on deaf ears. The judge turns off her phone before coming into court, because she is going to focus on what she is doing. You should return the courtesy. If you absolutely must have your phone on for extenuating circumstances, put it on vibrate.

The most interesting, or at least fun, cell phone in the courtroom situation comes from an article published on October 3, 2007 in Metro.co.uk Courtroom Interrupted by "Orgasmic" Ringtone where a man's cell phone had a very unique ringtone.  Read all about it here.

Bottom line, turn off your cell phone if you're going into the courtroom!!!

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Contact Attorney Lowell Steiger at (323) 852-1100

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