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.