Dear Cindy at The Dagger,
This past February, the Aegis printed a letter from a woman juror who got trapped in the juror parking lot elevator and spent a considerable amount of time before being rescued. She was unable to summon help because of the prohibition on carrying cell phones into the Harford County courthouse. I’ve looked into this and found that cell phones and other electronic devices are allowed into MD courthouses, with certain guidelines. I’ve asked various elected officials and have been told that it’s Chief Judge William Carr’s personal edict that prevents Harford County citizens from carrying their phones and electronic devices into the courthouse. A deputy at the courthouse told me he turns away as many as fifty people a day because they are carrying their cell phones. MD Rule 16-110 in effect as of January 2011, expressly permits cell phones and other electronic devices in courthouses, with certain guidelines. This means as many as 20,000 Harford County citizens have been turned away unnecessarily from the courthouse.
I’ve written to Judge Carr on February 27 and when I received no response, also wrote to MD Chief Judge Robert Bell. I have not received a response from him either.
I’ve attached the rule, and my letters to Judges Carr and Bell and also a link below to an article in the Gazette about Frederick County’s implementation of the rule.
February 27, 2013
The Honorable William O. Carr
County Administrative Judge & Chief Judge
Harford County Circuit Court
20 West Courtland Street
Bel Air, MD 21014
Dear Judge Carr,
A few weeks ago there was a letter to the Aegis from a woman juror who became trapped between floors in the juror parking lot elevator. According to her letter, the phone in the elevator connected her to an erroneous location that was not in any way relevant to her plight. The woman pushed the emergency alarm for an hour to no avail. The lady had no cell phone to call for help because of the local court prohibition on carrying a cell phone into the courthouse.
I’ve looked into this policy. Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Baltimore City, Carroll, Cecil and Frederick County allow cell phones in the courthouse. The current Harford County policy creates a hardship for our citizens. It is unfair that lawyers are free to carry their cell phones while other citizens are prohibited from doing the same. A courthouse deputy told me that he turns away as many as 20 people per hour on some days. This includes elderly folks who have to walk back to their cars to leave their phones. I’ve attached the new rule and would like to discuss the issue with you at your convenience.
March 13, 2013
The Honorable Robert M. Bell
Chief Judge, Court of Appeals
Robert C. Murphy Court of Appeals Building
361 Rowe Blvd.
Annapolis, MD 21401
Dear Judge Bell,
I mailed the attached letter with a copy of MD Rule 16-110 regarding cell phones to Judge Carr, Chief Judge Harford County Circuit Court on February 27, 2013. I have not received a reply. I believe the rule, effective 1/1/2011, was the court system’s reasoned response to 21st century communications. Judge Carr is either unaware of the rule or has decided not to implement it. I believe this sets a terrible example for our court system to set rules and have its own judges ignore them. I am open to a discussion if I’m wrong or I’m interpreting the rule incorrectly.