Saginaw County prepares to allow cell phones in courtrooms

Published: Jan. 13, 2020 at 5:15 PM EST
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Some mid-Michigan courts will have to adjust as the public will now be allowed to bring cell phones into courtrooms.

Saginaw County allows them in the courthouse in public areas, but not in courtrooms.

That will change on May 1st because the Michigan Supreme Court has adopted a rule change that will allow people to bring cell phones, tablets and laptops into courtrooms.

A Saginaw County judge expects problems.

"I was flabbergasted, I was a little upset," says Saginaw County Probate Court Judge Patrick McGraw.

He is reacting to the Michigan Supreme Court giving the greenlight to allow anyone to bring electronic devices, including cell phones, in courtrooms.

"They still can't photograph and they can't record, but now we have to watch to see if they are using it for photography or recording," he says.

Saginaw County has had a ban on the devices with some exceptions since 2013. It was challenged in federal court, but the county won. Now that the state's top court has weighed in, signs like this will have to come down.

McGraw sees some obvious problems.

"They forget to turn their cell phones off, they go off, its going to disrupt a proceeding," Judge McGraw says.

One big reason the county implemented the ban in the first place was to curb any possibility of witness intimidation, fearing someone would take a picture of a witness who did not want to be identified, or an undercover police officer, or perhaps a juror.

"We didn't have to worry in that way, we didn't have to police it, now we have to police it," he says.

"Sometimes you bring it in, you have to go all the way back to your car, its kind of a hassle," says David Oliver of Saginaw.

Oliver says he likes the rule change, and doesn't believe people will be taking pictures or recording proceedings.

"I think that's what the bailiffs are there for," he says.

McGraw says it will be difficult to monitor the cell phone habits of everyone in the courtroom, especially for smaller counties with tight budgets.

"It will be very hard to police and we will have to figure out how we are going to do it," he says.

Those new rule changes for all courthouses in the state will take effect on May 1st.

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