The Michigan Supreme Court announced Wednesday (1/8) that cellphones will be allowed in state courts. The decision was announced after a public hearing and an opportunity for public comment. Previously, judges were allowed to set a policy on cell phones for their own courts.

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said the new rule will make state courts more accessible. “Every courthouse and courtroom in the country should be open to the public that is very important,” she said. “Simply having a cell phone shouldn’t be a reason to deny access to the public.”

Justice McCormack said the state’s fragmented rules around cell phones were especially harmful for people who didn’t have lawyers. “Self represented litigants who are showing up don’t have a way to manage all the different rules and now there is standardization,” she said.

The MAB filed comments in a this proceeding. MAB Attorney John Ronayne explained in his comments how cell phones are now notebooks replacing pen and paper; they are cameras, video and audio recorders and a device to send video footage of interviews back to the station.

Under the new rules, cell phones need to be silenced while in the courtroom and cannot be used to photograph or record proceedings without a judge’s permission. Calls are not permitted while a court is in session.

Some clerks opposed the change saying cell phones could be used to photograph court documents – and might reduce revenue to the court. McCormack said photographing court documents will be allowed.

“Our view is that just as the courtroom must be accessible to the public so must court records be accessible. This branch of government belongs to the public.”

The new rule takes effect May 1st.

Thanks to Ben Thorp, WCMU

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