Editorial Supports Responsible Use of “Smartphones” in PA Courts

April 26, 2012

An editorial by Gayle Sproul and Michael Berry in yesterday’s Legal Intelligencer (subscription required) opposes the Pennsylvania Criminal Procedural Rules Committee’s proposed ban on the use of personal communications devices in the Commonwealth’s courtrooms.  The piece shares many of the same criticisms that PMC expressed against the proposal in comments we submitted to the Rules Committee earlier this month, notably that:

  • People today get their news from many different types of sources and their access to real-time information about court proceedings should not be needlessly restricted.
  • The use of the devices in question does not disrupt courtroom proceedings or decorum, and banning them may actually create more disruptions.
  • Restrictions already exist against the particular types of misconduct the measure purports to curb (witness intimidation, dissemination of restricted information by or to judges or jurors) and these existing restrictions simply need to be enforced.  Judges also already have broad discretion over the conduct of their courts to protect against misconduct.

The editorial then adds that many  judges have explicitly permitted the orderly broadcasting of information directly from court proceedings via Twitter or other services, citing recent examples in Pennsylvania, nationally, and even internationally. The authors conclude that “Pennsylvania should not be closing the channels of communication when they are being opened all around us. The proposed rule does not serve the interests of the judicial process or the public.”