People can no longer bring their cellphones into the county judicial center under a policy approved Monday by the presiding circuit judge and county officials.
Presiding Circuit Court Judge Gael Wood met with the county commissioners to discuss problems that have come up with recording devices being used in the courtroom.
He said it is suspected that a recent hearing in the Jeffrey Weinhaus case was audio recorded and then transcribed for placement on the Internet.
But Wood said the need to control cellphones and other recording devices in the courthouse goes beyond just the Weinhaus case.
Cellphones these days are capable of audio and video recording. The policy would also cover other devices, such as laptop computers and iPads, that can make audio and video recordings.
Court hearings should be protected from such recordings because it can cause a number of problems, Wood said. For instance, he said the devices can simply be an interruption if a phone rings in court.
But more seriously is the concept of taking photographs of witnesses, jurors and undercover agents and using that as a means of intimidation, Wood said.
The policy does not apply to certain people such as county elected officials, law enforcement officers and attorneys.
Asking people to turn off their phones is ineffective, so it is better to just ban them, Wood said.
He said he realizes this is an inconvenience for some, and that there could be cases when exceptions are granted such as if someone had an ill family member and needed to be in contact.
Such exceptions would be reviewed on a case-by-case basis with the decision made by the presiding judge. If the presiding judge is unavailable, then the judge handling the case would make the call.
Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer and Sheriff Gary Toelke also signed off on the policy with Wood.
There will not be lock boxes in the courthouse for people to leave their cellphones in. So if people get turned back with a cellphone by courthouse security, then they will likely have to put it in their car or do something else with it.
Wood said he would like to try the policy for six months to see how it works, and he does not think it will be a big problem.
County Commissioner Tim Brinker said he thinks keeping cellphones and other recording devices out of courtrooms is legitimate given the danger that jurors and witnesses could be put in if they were captured on video.
Wood said the policy basically reinforces what the Missouri Supreme Court has already said about cameras in the courtroom in that judges decide on a case-by-case basis whether to allow recording devices.
There is already a policy in place from 2004 in which cameras, tape recorders and video recorders are prohibited in the courtroom, County Commissioner Mike Schatz said. So it makes sense to apply the same rule to cellphones, when the new devices are capable of all types of recording, he said.
This helps maintain the integrity of the courtroom, Schatz added.