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Sheriff outlaws electronic devices in judicial center

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opinion Brainerd, 56401
Brainerd Dispatch
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Brainerd MN 506 James St. / PO Box 974 56401

The Crow Wing County Sherriff’s Department’s ban of cellphones and other electronic devices at the Crow Wing County Judicial Center may turn into an interesting demonstration of just how addicted most people are to their beloved cellphones.

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Starting Monday, cellphones, smartphones and electronic devices such as iPads, iPods, Kindle Fires and Google Nexus 7s, will all be banned from the judicial center. There is no storage area for these objects so members of the public will have to secure them at another location or not enter the building. The sheriff’s department said some people have neglected to turn off their cellphones in courtrooms or have been caught texting, audio- or videotaping court proceedings, all of which is prohibited.

There’s no question judges and law officers should be able to restrict the use or possibly ban phones and other electronic devices within the courtroooms but the judicial center is a big and expensive building that was constructed with tax dollars. Many people conduct business with judicial center and county attorney’s staff without ever going into a courtroom. A building-wide ban seems to be a bit of an over-reach for those people. This rule will inconvenience way more people than it probably should.

Now, exceptions will be granted, the sheriff’s department said. Judges, attorneys and judicial center employees will be exempt. Exceptions may also be granted for weddings, adoptions or media interviews with officials in the courthouse.

Exceptions, of course, always bring to mind more possible exceptions. Will lawyers who are not appearing before court be included in the ban? How about state lawmakers or county commissioners on official business? And yes, I’ll make the case that professional journalists covering a trial could serve the public in a more efficient manner if they were allowed to carry cellphones.

Considering the various exceptions brings to mind the point that it’s individuals who cause the problems, not the cellphones or electronic devices themselves. One might say cellphones don’t violate court protocol. People violate court protocol.

Among the 17 counties in the Ninth Judicial District only Beltrami, Polk and soon, Crow Wing ban cellphones and electronic devices from the building, with specific exceptions.

The sheriff’s department should consider scaling back the ban so it applies to courtrooms or perhaps the floors that contain courtrooms rather than the entire building. There’s no sense in inconveniencing more people than necessary.

Mike O’Rourke

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Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860
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