Michigan Supreme Court gives green light to phones in courts

Supreme Court to hear cell phone privacy case
Posted at 2:16 PM, Jan 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-08 14:16:06-05

PONTIAC, Mich. (AP) — The public can bring laptops, tablets and phones into Michigan courthouses under a groundbreaking policy announced Wednesday by the state Supreme Court.

The new rule covers the use of electronic devices in courtrooms and clerk's offices, where public documents are stored. Many elected clerks had opposed the policy during the drafting stage because it would allow people to copy records and avoid fees, a key source of revenue.

The rule change improves access and “will help make sure the doors to our courts are open to all,” Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said.

The public can bring electronic devices into courtrooms to take notes, use the internet or exchange email and text messages, under the rule, which starts May 1. Photos or video, however, are prohibited unless approved by a judge.

Copies of court documents can be made as long as the “device leaves no mark or impression on the document and does not unreasonably interfere with the operation of the clerk’s office,” the rule states.

The rule says judges can restrict devices if the activity “is disruptive or distracting to a court proceeding.”

Phone policies have varied around the state. In southeastern Michigan, the Macomb County courthouse allows phones but Oakland County and the Wayne County criminal courthouse do not. Phones are allowed in the Kent County courthouse, the largest in western Michigan, but spectators sometimes are told to turn them off in courtrooms.

Lawyers said a ban on phones was a burden on clients, especially poor people who don't have a car and must leave a phone at home before heading to court. Attorneys said communication at times was impossible on the day of key court hearings.

Justice Stephen Markman opposed the rule change.

“Courtrooms are home to solemn proceedings demanding the fullest attention of participants in these proceedings,” Markman said. “Allowing individuals in courtrooms to casually browse the internet, to text or to play games may introduce distractions into these proceedings or compromise the necessarily formal and focused atmosphere of the courtroom.”