I absolutely hate it when a cell phone goes off in court. At least once I got the strong feeling that opposing counsel set off their phone on purpose to distract the jury when I was talking. It really upset me and after the jury went out to deliberate I threatened to beat the guy up right there in the courtroom or outside if he preferred. The Judge sat there and didn’t say a word as I went on and on about the guy’s manhood or lack thereof. I even insulted him right in front of his client by listing the stupid mistakes he made in the trial and how his client ought to consider talking to a malpractice lawyer. He finally herded his client and his legal assistant out in the hallway. I wish he had taken me up on the fight in the parking lot.
I’m not the only one who gets upset about ringing cell phones. Over the last ten years most of the Judges in my state have instituted cell phone and recording device bans in their courtrooms. Some courts have even banned “cell phones, laptops, tablet computers, and other Internet-capable electronics.” It’s not just that they beep and ring and play songs. In some states Judges have complained that onlookers were snapping photos of jurors, witnesses and others — an obvious intimidation tactic. Post some selective video on your website or YouTube channel and the other witnesses won’t show up for fear of getting hurt. Or how about texting or live streaming testimony to the other witnesses outside the courtroom so that they all say the same thing on the witness stand. None of this is a good thing for the justice system.
It’s also a problem when people are constantly checking their email and social media accounts when they should be listening to the lawyers, the Judge, or the witnesses. It is a huge distraction and a major irritation when everyone on the jury is lost in their own private tweets or twits or whatever when I am trying to explain something very important. Well, at least important to my client. Of course even when cell phones and music players are banned people still fade away. It’s like their attention spans last about five minutes before they start thinking about what their friend thinks about the funny picture of some kitty they posted on their facebook page. For a while I took to slapping the table or lectern right before I said anything important. It was effective so I started doing it all the time but the effect kind of started to wear off and my hands hurt a lot. I suppose it’s only something to do every half hour.
But with all the publicity about how bad cell phones and electronic devices are in court, I think we should all be highly impressed by the actions of Michigan Judge Raymond Voet of the Ionia County District Court. Judge Voet has a policy in his courtroom that phones that ring are seized and not returned until a $25 fine is paid. Around here the fine is usually a $100 donation to charity for the first offense and $250 or more after that, but I can’t find a reason to criticize the amount of his fine.
Recently a prosecutor was giving a closing argument in his courtroom and Judge Voet’s new smartphone started making noise. According to Judge Voet, “The prosecutor was in the middle of his closing arguments. … He lost his train of thought and looked at me. I felt my face starting to burn red.” Judge Voet then turned off his phone, allowed the prosecutor to finish, and at the next recess, went and paid the $25 fine. “I like my phones just like anyone else,” Judge Voet said. “But it’s very distracting when a phone goes off.” Yes, and thank you for an honorable demonstration of the equal applicability of the law. I suppose it is what would be expected of someone in your position but you deserve praise for your integrity and judicial bearing none the less.
Oh, and I have noticed a free market trend now that so many courts are banning electronics. Entrepreneurs are setting up private electronic storage units outside courthouses. One guy in Chicago calls his “Hold ‘Em Up Lock ‘N Box.” I love the name. He charges $2 to store your stuff for the day in a blue plastic bag that he says he guards. The official storage units inside the courthouse charge $3 per day. The guy in Chicago said this about his business: “They leave their valuables here. I’m not going anywhere, so it’s a cure. I’m safe, and they’re safe.” Well I hope so.