Fascinating approach to maintaining security in the Southern District of New York: prohibit bringing electronic devices, including laptops and cell phones into the courtroom without prior court approval. Law.com reports on the interim rule and resulting outcry here.
Apparently, the interim rule was put in place around the time of Bernie Madoff’s sentencing on June 29, at which a woman attempted to surreptitiously record the proceedings. The Southern District hastily put the rule in place, citing physical security concerns (i.e. bombs in laptops) and concerns about attempts to circumvent rules preventing live broadcasting of court proceedings.
Attorneys in the Southern District are, understandbly, upset. Representatives of interested Bar groups are planning on attendnig a July 29 hearing on the rules intended to address whether the bans should be made permanent or whether such devices may be permitted subject to restrictions.
The interim rule, known as Local Rule 1.8, presently prohibits anyone other than court personnel or federal prosecutors and defenders from bringing in the devices without prior written permission from a judge. Judges, sensitive to the concerns of attorneys practicing in their courts, are signing blanket orders permitting them to bring their phones, laptops, PDA’s and other gadgets through security and into the courtrooms.
Attorneys are sensitive to the court’s concerns, as well, which are somewhat heightened in the Southern District. Nonetheless, members of the Bar are imploring the court to consider that these devices have become integral to the practice of law both within and beyond the courtroom walls. Computers are used for organizing data and presenting evidence. PDAs and smartphones keep attorneys connected with their offices while in court. Heck, you can even look up the IRC on your iPhone in a pinch if need be. There is little doubt that the implications of the court’s rule could be significant on those attorneys practicing under their weight.
The Southern District appears to be the only court in the country imposing such an outright ban without prior approval. It will be interesting to learn the results of the upcoming hearing and whether this rather Draconian measure will remain intact.
You can read the text of the rule here.
We have similar rules in most Virginia state courthouses. At least the ones around Richmond. This for better or worse does not seem all that unusual to me.
I definitely feel the Southern District’s concerns are valid, but I also think there has to be some sort of middle ground applicable to all attorneys practicing in the court. The technological tools are a reality in the actual practice of law, use of them as explosive-bearing devices excepted, of course. The Southern District was able to make exception for federal prosecutors and defense counsel. Why not all counsel?
Are the Virginia state courts prohibiting computers, cells and other electronics outright, with exception only after court motion and order, or are they imposing less onerous restrictions? How do the Virginia courts deal with use of laptops to aid electronic evidence or other direct uses in the courtroom? My feeling is that there should be safeguards in place, such as the pass system or application process discussed in the article, but not an outright ban.