If you've been to either of the two St. Joseph County courthouses lately for jury duty, a marriage license or court, you know cellphones are not allowed inside. But a lot of people don’t understand why that’s a rule.
St. Joseph County Circuit Court Judge Michael Gotsch says concerns about safety prompted the cellphone ban to be enacted just over a year ago.
People were using smart phones to take pictures of jurors, record hearings from inside the courtroom (recording devices of any kind are currently illegal in Indiana courtrooms) and send text messages when officers moved inmates through the buildings. Gotsch and fellow judges decided it was putting everyone inside the courthouses at risk.
Now when people pass through the doors at both the county courthouse and traffic & misdemeanor court next door, security officers ask everyone the same question – do you have a cellphone with you?
An inevitably, there are always a few who do.
Maggie Giles was among a handful of people at the courthouse Thursday morning who did not know about the ban or see the signs posted on the doors warning that cellphones are not allowed inside.
She was called for jury duty and had no idea what time she’d be done.
“I didn’t want to bring my car down so I had my son and daughter in law drop me off,” Giles explained. “I turned it off so it wouldn't be [a problem] so now I'm thinking when it's time for me to leave, how do I contact them to come and get me?”
Giles quickly called her son to come pick up the electronic device she never leaves home without.
“It would be nice if they had a locked container that’s here and it would be just, ‘OK, we’re going to lock your phone up,’” she said.
Gotsch said that’s something judges and county commissioners have examined, but so far have not been able to come up with a feasible, manageable plan.
“It’s a policy that a lot of people don’t like,” Gotsch said of the cellphone ban.
He also added people who report for jury duty are able to use landline phones located in the courthouse if they need to.
He also realizes a lot of people still don’t know about it even though it was highly publicized when the courthouses first enacted it in January 2012. But he and other judges insist the hassle at the door is worth it.
“I have jurors who are coming here and doing their civic duty and one of my major obligations is to make sure they’re safe,” he added.
Giles said she’s grateful for that but she still wasn’t sure how she’d contact her family to get back home.
“So you’ll see me wandering the streets,” she laughed.
The cellphone ban doesn't apply to everyone – some people have exemptions, including police officers, anyone who works at either courthouse, attorneys and the news media.