Cell Phone Ban Lifted in Harford County Circuit Court Following Letter Writing Campaign by Bel Air Resident

Cell phones are no longer banned in Harford County Circuit Court, belatedly bringing the court into compliance with a rule allowing the public to bring phones inside Maryland courthouses. County Administrative Judge William O. Carr lifted the local ban last week, following a letter-writing campaign by Bel Air resident Patrick Lovett.

Lovett uncovered MD Rule 16-110, which in January 2011 lifted the cell phone ban in courthouses statewide in order to set a uniform rule for attorneys working in multiple jurisdictions, and as a convenience for the general public. While some restrictions apply under the rule, for example phones are not allowed in jury deliberation rooms and their use cannot interfere with court proceedings, the rule generally allows citizens to have cell phones in Maryland courthouses.

Despite the two-year-old directive, Judge Carr continued until recently to ban cell phones for members of the general public in Harford County Circuit Court, although Carr did not apply the ban for attorneys.

Troubled by what he called an unfair “hardship for our citizens,” Lovett sent a letter to Judge Carr in late February, outlining his concerns and including a copy of MD Rule 16-110. Lovett received no reply.

Lovett followed up with a mid-March letter to Chief Judge Robert Bell, Maryland Court of Appeals. Again, he got no reply.

Undaunted, Lovett wrote to local media, Gov. Martin O’Malley, and finally, on April 9th, he emailed the administrative judge who is Carr’s supervisor, which appears to have done the trick.

Lovett says he got a response letter on Friday from the Hon. John Grason Turnbull, II, administrative judge for the third circuit, who said he had spoken with Judge Carr and the Harford County Circuit Court would henceforth comply with MD Rule 16-110.

An April 15th memo from Judge Carr to the head of courthouse security tells the rest of the story:

The full text of MD Rule 16-110, which applies to cell phones and other electronic devices, appears here.

Comments

  1. Tweeting from the jury box says

    Thanks a lot Mr. Lovett, now Harford County can enjoy the same issues that the city has been battling. I can see how it would be worth the mistrials and distractions, the jurors tweeting and facebook updating during trial, and the recordings posting to the internet so that the modern age cell phone zombies don’t have to be separated from their habit for a few hours. The Harford County policy was a result of the multitude of problems that cell phones caused during the Sheila Dixon trial and the complaints of citizens who had their phones confiscated for having them go off in the court room. I will thoroughly enjoy confiscating the phones when they are being used or go off in the courtroom and telling the citizens when they come back after business hours to pick them up that they clearly don’t appreciate what Mr. Patrick Lovett has done for them. The first couple people to find themselves in contempt of court will be really glad that their Rule 16-110 rights were well exercised.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 7 Thumb down 12
    • Kharn says

      If you aren’t smart enough to turn off your phone when the bailiff tells you to, you should get to spend the night at the detention center.

      Well-loved. Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0
  2. Addicted To The Phone says

    It really sad that people are afraid to be separated from their phones for a few hours

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 5 Thumb down 8
  3. says

    Thanks you Mr. Lovett, for keeping our local courts playing by the rules.

    In general, the courts should be an example, a role model, of following the rules,
    since the courts are the ones enforcing the rules on all of us.

    The MD Rule 16-110 says “a person may to bring an electronic device into a court facility and use the electronic device for the purpose of sending and receiving phone calls and electronic messages and for any other lawful purpose”.

    The public servants who work in the court system need to learn about more about “serving the public”. Remember the public pays the taxes for the salary for these court public servants.
    Allowing cell phones in the court building complex is one more step in improving the ways the courts can serve the public, and reduce the hardships of coming to court.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 15 Thumb down 2
  4. iminbelair says

    Shame on you, Judge Carr. Above anyone, you certainly should want to follow rules adopted by society. You wouldn’t put up with such impudent behavior from one of your court employees or citizens in a case. There is no defense for your delay. Let us consider where you stand now: your were forced to back off and institute the rule anyway, and you look foolish into the bargain. On balance, you lost more than you gained. Mr. Lovett, thanks so much for following through on this issue politely but relentlessly.

    Well-loved. Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3
  5. Linda Weeks says

    Thank you, Mr. Lovett, for your diligent efforts. I really like to see people taking action on issues where they feel they have been neglected or overruled by beaurocracy. That’s the only way to make any progress nowadays!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2
    • noble says

      I think it’s a silly issue, personally, but I do congratulate him on not just being a complainer, but actually doing and accomplishing something. We need more people willing to do something when they don’t agree with things.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  6. resident says

    why are you thanking this Mr Lovett? Just wait till we have a trial and a witness or victims picture is splashed across cell phones and on facebook. What about when it involves a child. Are you going to thank Mr Lovett then? The rule was put into place to proctect the courts from people not using cell phones to record, call or take pictures of the proceedings. I for one think that Mr Lovett does not deserve thanks and when is society going to realize that this can become a major problem with intimidation and like people say…..why can’t they be seperated from their cell phones for a few hours. I for one am not appauding this “do gooder”. Just wait till an innocent victim is identified and the defendant knows what was said. There are a lot of good, honest citizens out there that would respect the new rule, but give me a break……I hope this doesn’t put innocent people or sheriff’s deputies at risk.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8
    • PTB says

      I have some advice for you, Resident: please think things through before you spout off. There is at least 5 major points/facts that you either missed or misunderstood in this story. Seems to me that you put about as much thought and open-mindedness into this issue as Judge Carr did.
      Well done Mr. Lovett.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
      • resident says

        PTB do enlighten me on the five points. and how I misuderstood the story. Just remember the courthouse is where trials are held and if you haven’t been sitting in the gallery, at court, you wouldn’t know what type of crimes are tried there. So let me hear your defense about letting the defendants family bring cell phones in and try and “get over” on the deputies. I am not going to thank someone who thinks they “done good”. So I wait to hear your reasoning and I am sure I can understand your point. I still won’t thank Mr Lovett for doing a benefit to the criminal. Yes, there are good law abiding people who need the phones, but the criminals now have a new avenue to intimidate. Well done PTB

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4
        • PTB says

          I’m sorry to see how bitter and insecure you are about this. If you let these people get you down this easily; and if you’re offended by someone trying to “get over” on you, then you should perhaps seek some help. If you are a deputy, I do thank you for your service and for the risks and dangers that you undertake each day on the job. God bless our public safety officers.

          Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  7. ALEX R says

    Thanks, Mr. Lovett. The judges need to be the first to obey the rules.

    But I do have to add that I think the rule is wrong and that judges should have the option to ban cell phones when they feel it is prudent.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1
  8. Tweeting from the jury box says

    I do serve the public and I’ll do as I’m instructed by the judge. In serving the public I attempt to prevent mistrials, each one costing more than most people pay In taxes each year. I try to keep the prospective jurors focused on their tasks and the questions asked rather than on reading materials and now phones. I guess I foolishly believed that our constitutional rights and the justice system were more important than access to words with friends and Facebook. If the issue was honestly emergency calls and the problem of people not having a place to secure their phones then we should be able to put secure lockers at the metal detector and we will secure them in there until someone needs to step out and make a call.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3
  9. Common Sense says

    @Tweeting from the jury box

    You do what?

    ” In serving the public I attempt to prevent mistrials” unless you’re the judge presiding over a proceeding then you are exceeding your authority.

    You serve the public under the law so you have two things you must do -

    1) Uphold and obey the law

    2) Be respectful to those you serve – the public

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1
  10. It happened to me says

    I had the need to visit the land records service desk in the courthouse which is on the first floor. The courtrooms are on the second floor. I was unaware of the cell phone ban and had to return five blocks to my car to leave my cell phone. I was trying to conduct this business during my lunch break and the rule made it very difficult. It was even more distressing because I was not going anywhere near a courtroom.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  11. Tweeting from the jury box says

    Common sense, it is the job of all court staff to make sure that court operations are not interrupted. A juror who does independent research on his phone even of any kind results in a mistrial as the information came from another source other than the trial. Jurors who did not respond to voir dire questioning because they were distracted by their phones or by the magazines they bring with them can result in mistrials. These are my responsibility. Other courts have had issues with jurors looking up defendants Facebook pages, looking up news articles about the case, and tweeting/face booking about the case mid case. These are all things that we are asked to assist in preventing but we can not go into the jury room once the jurors are picked as they are legally segregated. The situation just mentioned by “it happened to me” is why they should allow them in the building but still not allow them into the courtrooms.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1
      • resident says

        then this Lovett would write another letter and get the system to move on his word. Then you would have everyone thanking him for making criminals get a fair trial. I am sure he wouldn’t write the letter because that would entail him taking the phones away from the very people he was wrote all these letters to get the “law” changed.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3
        • Kharn says

          Then we should hold jury deliberations on the deck at Dark Horse, because Mr Lovett might complain the jury room doesn’t have a good view, loud music, cold beer or decent fries.

          Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

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