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Electronics ban starts today at Cook County courthouse

A crackdown on cellphones and other electronics in Cook County criminal courthouses begins Monday at the busiest criminal court facility in the country.

The ban on smartphones, computer tablets and other electronic devices takes effect Monday at the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue.

The hard-line policy was set to begin in January, but Circuit Chief Judge Timothy Evans delayed its implementation for three months after critics attacked the plan.

After the announcement last December, other county officials appeared caught by surprise by the change and expressed concern mostly about a shortage of kiosks for cellphone storage. Evans offered the three-month grace period to work out those kinks.

At the criminal courthouse at 26th and California, three cash-operated vending machine-style units, each able to hold 60 cellphones — at a cost of $3 a pop — have been set up, said sheriff's spokeswoman Eleni Demertzis.

The spokeswoman said the sheriff's office has no idea what to expect Monday at 26th and California.

"We're just hoping that the word gets out" about the ban, Demertzis said.

Deputies will not allow anyone with a cellphone inside the courthouse once the storage space runs out, she said.

Eventually the ban will be extended to 12 other criminal court facilities, but Evans' office offered no timetable for that.

Current and former judges, attorneys, government employees, reporters and people reporting to jury duty are among those exempt from the ban.

Cellphones will still be allowed in the Daley Center, where mostly civil matters are handled.

Evans insists the policy is designed to safeguard criminal courthouses, but he has offered few details to support the need for the ban. His office said he was unavailable Thursday to take questions.

When he first announced the change in December, Evans said some judges had complained that spectators in courtrooms had photographed witnesses, jurors and judges and in other instances had texted testimony to upcoming witnesses waiting outside.

When asked for specifics, his office said Thursday it did not track that information.

"This ban is important to uphold our justice system and the safety of our courts," a news release quoted Evans as saying. "Intimidation will not be tolerated."

jmdelgado@tribune.com

Twitter: @jendelgado1

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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