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Florida federal court joins others in cell phone ban

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Florida federal court joins others in cell phone ban

  • A new rule in federal district court in Miami will keep cell phones and other electronics out of the courtroom.

Oct. 27, 2003 — Now that cell phones can be used like camcorders, courts are barring them as they would bar cameras.

Judge William J. Zlock of the federal district court in Miami adopted a new rule drafted by the U.S. Marshals and effective Oct. 14 that keeps cell phones and other electronics out of federal courtrooms from Ft. Pierce to Key West.

The ability of some new cell phone models to take pictures, capture sound, and even record video footage triggered the ban. “Somebody could feasibly come into the courthouse and take a picture of a protected witness . . . or undercover agent,” said Deputy U.S. Marshal Barry D. Golden, a public information officer in Miami..

A ban on cell phones makes reporting back to a newsroom difficult. Television Week reported Oct. 13 that when Judge Frederick Gannett in Eagle County, Col., banned cell phones from the courtroom in the Kobe Bryant preliminary hearing, reporters had to line up behind the single pay phone in the lobby in order to speak with their editors and producers.

According to an Oct. 10 press release by Golden, the U.S. Marshals in Florida created the new rule in response to “technology advancing more and more rapidly.” It is “aimed at protecting witnesses and jury members during proceedings and trials in the federal arena.”

“Understand that your safety and security is paramount,” Christina Pharo, U.S. marshal for the southern district of Florida, wrote about the new restrictions. Pharo said the service is concerned that the new technologies could be used to “conceal hazardous devices.” The court announced the new rule to the public in a posting on its Web site.

The rule in Florida does not apply to federal courthouse employees, federal agents or other sworn law enforcement officers, or to practicing attorneys. Anyone else must have written permission from the court to bring in any electronic equipment. The equipment is also subject to a five-point inspection, including an X-ray, before it can be brought into court.

AS


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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