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Culpeper Circuit judge bans cell phones from courtroom
Culpeper County judge bans cellphones in courtroom

Date published: 1/17/2013

BY DONNIE JOHNSTON

Your cell could land you in a cell, at least in Culpeper County Circuit Court.

As of Jan. 1, Judge Susan Whitlock, who assumed the bench in Virginia's 16th Judicial Circuit last July, banned all "cellular telephones and other electronic recording devices" in the courtroom.

The ban also applies to attorneys who do not have "express written permission of this court."

The edict did not set well with many lawyers, who keep their scheduling calendars on their cellphones and regularly pull them out in court to check the availability of a potential hearing date.

Those attorneys who do get permission to bring electronic devices into Whitlock's courtroom must also have their permission slips on their person at the time.

Whitlock's court is one of a number of courts that have banned cellphones, not only because they are a distraction, but because the advanced technology also allows one witness in the courtroom to text another witness who is sequestered.

Cellphones also make it possible for photos--which are also prohibited without special permission--to be taken in court.

Whitlock's office did not respond to a question regarding specifics about what prompted the ban. Previously, cellphones were ordered turned off before the carrier entered the courtroom.

The new rules apply only to Circuit Court, not to the General District or Juvenile and Domestic Relations courts, a point that has confused many people who enter the courthouse that houses all three.

The restrictive order is posted on the courthouse door, the elevator and stairway that lead to the third-floor courtroom and on the courtroom door itself.

According to the posted order, any person found with an unauthorized cellphone in Whitlock's courtroom will be charged with contempt , which is punishable by a fine, imprisonment or both.

Donnie Johnston:
Email: djohnston@freelancestar.com