Be wary: Next time you go to a Cook County courthouse, you may need to leave your cell phone at home.
Circuit Court of Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans announced this week that cell phones and electronic devices will no longer be allowed in any Cook County courthouse that handles criminal matters, starting on Jan. 4, 2013, the Daily Herald reports.
The ban includes laptops, tablets, and anything capable of making an audio or video recording or able to connect to the Internet, according to the newspaper. It exempts licensed attorneys, judges, members of the media and others performing “official court business.” The Daley Center downtown is not included in the ban, except for certain restricted areas.
Multiple media sources report that the judge justified the ban by citing incidents of people photographing jurors, streaming live reports outside the courtroom or texting testimony to witnesses.
"The court is sending a strong message to gang members and others that any attempts to intimidate witnesses, jurors, and judges in court will not be permitted," Evans wrote in a release, according to ABC7 Chicago.
"The ban will help to ensure that justice is properly done by preserving the integrity of testimony and maintaining court decorum."
United Press International reported that the policy change was made without consulting the Cook County Sheriff’s office. A spokesman told the organization that there were “a lot of unanswered questions” surrounding the ban.
Evans has "enthusiastically" supported efforts to allow cameras in Cook County courtrooms, the Chicago Tribune noted.
A Chicago Sun-Times editorial criticized the move as being poorly handled. The editorial said the ban would impose an undue burden on people attending courts, as well as on other agencies that share the building, without the installation of new storage kiosks.