Cook County bans reporters from bringing computers, phones into courthouse

Reporters covering hearings and press conferences in Cook County have long been allowed to bring their computers and cellphones into the criminal courthouse at 26th and California to do their job.

No more, according to an order filed Wednesday by Circuit Court Presiding Judge Erica Reddick.

Effectively immediately, the order states that "all media and members of the public except employees and authorized personnel shall not bring cellphones, laptops or any electronic devices into the George N. Leighton Criminal Courthouse."

Television news camera crews are banned from recording in a designated press area in the building’s lobby under the order.

The ban stems from an incident this week when a member of the media took photographs with a cellphone while in a courtroom, a spokeswoman for Chief Judge Tim Evans said in a statement.


A source told the Sun-Times that a television news reporter was in a courtroom this week when they were seen by a sheriff’s deputy recording and taking photos with their phone. The deputy approached the reporter and asked them to delete the images, at which point the reporter said they had already sent them to an editor.

A spokesman for the sheriff’s department was not immediately able to provide additional information about the incident.

The spokeswoman said Evans would meet with members of the media on Friday "to discuss expectations going forward."

Matt Topic, a lawyer who focuses on government transparency law, called the ban "excessive."

"While courts should maintain decorum and enforce their rules, a ban applicable to all reporters, including the large number who who have carried cell phones in the courthouse without incident for years, seems excessive and raises First Amendment concerns," Topic said.

Long gone are the days when reporters used notebooks and rushed to the courthouse lobby phone bank to call in their stories. Now reporters rely on their phones and computers to take notes, write copy, keep the public updated on social media and file their stories.

Most members of the public are not allowed to bring their phones into the courthouse. An exception is made for jurors.

Court employees, attorneys and members of the media have typically been allowed into the courthouse with phones and computers, and are generally checked in through a separate entrance by Cook County sheriff’s deputies. Reporters are required to show their media credentials, including a photo ID issued by the Chicago Police Department.

Court employees and attorneys will still be allowed to bring in electronic devices because they are considered "authorized personnel" under a previous order, the chief judge’s office said.

A judge who works in the building but asked not to named discussing the order said the public cell phone ban initially stemmed from concerns about people taking photos of witnesses during testimony.

He said he believed an exception for members of the media should continue, and said he believed most other judges in the building would agree.