EBENSBURG – Since a new policy prohibiting cellphones, cameras and other personal electronic devices from the second and third floor of the Cambria County Courthouse was implemented June 1, officials tasked with enforcing the new rule say the transition is going smoothly thus far.
“So far, so good,” said President Judge Norman Krumenacker III, who signed an order in May to bring the policy to the Cambria County Courthouse as well as the county’s Central Park Complex, domestic relations and district magistrate offices.
Although photography and video recording is already prohibited from courtrooms and during court proceedings, the small size of current personal electronic devices made it increasingly challenging to enforce those rules, Krumenacker’s order said.
“This policy is intended to deter and prevent the disruption of court proceedings by electronic devices, (to) prevent the recording of security procedures, and to eliminate the potential for intimidation of witnesses and other participants in court proceedings through the use of such devices to photograph or record these individuals,” the order states.
In the past several years, Krumenacker’s order said incidents have occurred in which photographs and video and audio recordings were made during court proceedings in violation of existing rules. There was also an increase in disruptions caused by cellphones and other devices ringing during court, the order says.
In the past, visitors to the Cambria County Courthouse were instructed to turn cellphones off when court was in session. If a cellphone disrupted a hearing, judges and deputies confiscated the device and ordered the owner to pay a $25 fine.
Cambria County Treasurer Lisa Kozorosky said her office has handled an average of one to two fine payments each month in the past as judges fined those whose cellphones disrupted court, but hasn’t seen an increase since the policy took effect June 1.
Now, anyone bringing a cellphone or personal electronic device into the courthouse must now surrender it to sheriff’s deputies and place it in a secure locker or return it to their vehicle.
The policy applies to cellphones, smartphones, cameras, camera-equipped devices, all devices capable of video and/or audio recording, laptop computers, computer tablets, all devices capable of connecting to the internet, all devices capable of sending or receiving SMS or MMS messages and all devices capable of making or receiving phone calls or other two-way communications.
Attorneys, law enforcement officers on official business, Cambria County and court employees and credentialed members of the media are exempt from the policy.
Court staff and court security officers may confiscate and search cellular phones being used in violation of the policy and violators may be subject to a $25 fine, removal from the courtroom, loss of privilege to bring personal electronic devices into court facilities, contempt proceedings and expulsion from the court facility.
Cambria County Sheriff Bob Kolar said enforcing the policy has been a bit hectic, with deputies asking every person entering the courthouse which floor they’ll be heading to and locking up cell phones if their destination is the second or third floor.
There have been some complaints thus far, Kolar said, “but the majority go along with the system.”
“Either leave them in the car or be prepared to lock them up,” Kolar urged those who plan to visit the courthouse and enter areas where personal electronic devices are prohibited.
Judges may permit the use of photography and recording devices during court proceedings as permitted by law or ceremonial functions such as adoptions, weddings, naturalization proceedings and investiture proceedings, the policy says, but permission to use these devices must be obtained in advance of the proceeding or ceremony.
Although the Cambria County Commissioners traditionally hold their meetings on the third floor of the courthouse, their next regular meeting scheduled for June 27 is tentatively scheduled to take place in the jury room, located in the basement, to allow members of the public to film the meeting.