The Delaware Judiciary officially took another step toward the 21st century Thursday: The courts announced visitors will be allowed to bring cellphones and other personal electronics into all court facilities starting June 1, with some restrictions.
The move widens a pilot program that started in February 2o22 and represents a major shift in court policy that for years has prevented anyone entering courthouses to bring cellphones in.
The pilot program allowed personal electronic devices in a handful of court facilities, includeing the Susses County Courthouse.
Family Court Chief Judge Michael K. Newell, who advocated for the change and has overseen the pilot program, called it a succes and said it didn’t cause any significant safety or operational concerns.
Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz signed an order earlier this year allowing the pilot committee to expand the program.
“We are taking this step to increase access to the justice system, recognizing that personal electronic devices – particularly cellphones – have become an integral part of daily life,” Seitz said in a press release. “We know people want to keep in touch with family members, children and perhaps work. And we know, in some instances at the courthouse, they may need access to their personal calendar or other vital personal information they keep on their phone.”
The public will be allowed to use their devices in the halls, lobbies and other public areas of the courthouses so long as such use does not disrupt or disturb court business or proceedings.
With limited exceptions, visitors will not be allowed to take photos or record audio or video in the courthouse. One exception is that visitors will be allowed to use their devices to photograph or scan public court documents in clerks’ offices.
All visitors will be required to turn off or silence their devices when in the courtroom.
If a judicial officer feels the presence of personal devices is a threat to safety or security or otherwise interferes with the administration of justice, he or she may require all individuals in the courtroom to place their devices in a secure, locking pouch until they leave the courtroom.
Court security will oversee the use of the secure pouches and will have the ability to lock and unlock them as needed.
A final report evaluating the program is expected in March 2024. It will determine if the changes should become permanent.
The new cell phone policy under the pilot program can be found on the court website.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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