Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How stubborn can Cook County be? We’re going to learn fairly soon

We’re going to learn in coming weeks, if not days, just how stubborn our county’s court system is capable of being.

Who'd have dreamed of cellphones back in the days when Anton Cermak gave us our current Criminal Courts building?
For there is a change that took place beginning this week with regards to those people who have business bringing them to the Criminal Courts building (a.k.a., 26th and California) when they have to comply with court orders concerning their personal cellular telephones.

BECAUSE TECHNICALLY, PEOPLE aren’t supposed to have such phones on their presence inside the courthouse.

And the storage lockers that used to be in place for people to put their phones while they’re at the courthouse are no longer in use.

So we now have a situation where someone can show up at the courthouse, be forbidden to enter because of their phone, then somehow be found in contempt (and perhaps even have a warrant issued for their arrest) because they couldn’t make it to court.

Because it seems that chief Judge Timothy Evans (the same man who once had dreams of being our city’s mayor) has no intention of easing up on the restrictions against cellphones being in one’s possession when they’re inside the courthouse.

PERSONALLY, I GET the reason for the restriction. It seems that before the ban was put in place back in 2013, people inside courtrooms were using the camera functions on their phones to take pictures of things happening inside.

It seems some of those pictures were winding up in the public amongst gang-oriented people as a way of identifying people who had the unmitigated gall to testify against them in criminal cases.

EVANS: Soon to have to make a tough decision
There also were instances where people were using text message functions to pass along information from criminal cases to people outside the courtroom who might have to testify in the future. In short, there were people using modern technology to try to undermine the legal system.

Evans came up with the outright ban on people having their phones in court as a way of countering that problem.

BUT IT CREATES a bigger problem in that cell phones are so common place these days – particularly since the ability to find a public payphone can be pretty difficult these days.

What does a person do with the phone while they have to be in court?

I know from being a reporter-type person who has covered several of the courthouses in Cook County that what the local officials always say is to leave the phone out in your car. And perhaps at the suburban-based courts, that makes sense since they all come equipped with ample parking lots and expect people to drive to court.

But court officials always like to say how every single courthouse was designed to be on a bus route so as to remove the excuse that someone without a car can’t physically get to court.

AND I ALSO know I’d never want to have to park a car near the Criminal Courts building (take the pink line el train to California Avenue, then a bus six blocks south to the front door of the courthouse). Which is the way many people get themselves to court when they have to be there.

Those storage lockers may be a pain in the butt for sheriff’s police to have to oversee (because the same gang-types who were using their cellphones to take pictures and make recordings of court proceedings allegedly are using the lockers to store drugs while in court).

But the fact is that if court officials really are going to be so absolutist in their approach to phones, they’re going to have to assume responsibility for them. And if they’re not willing to do so, then they’re going to have to lighten up.

Which is what I think will ultimately have to happen. We’ll just have to have those sheriff’s deputies who patrol each courtroom (and are already prepared to crack down on anybody who gets out of line during court proceedings) be prepared to bust anybody who thinks they’re being cute by trying to take a “selfie” with the judge in the background.


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