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NYCLA REPORT FAVORS LIFTING BAN ON ELECTRONIC DEVICES IN SDNY COURTHOUSE
JULY 29, 2009 – NEW YORK, NY – The New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) adopted a report prepared by its Federal Courts Committee addressed to the Southern District of New York (SDNY) that favors lifting the ban on cell phones, laptops, PDAs and other electronic devices from the courthouse. NYCLA President Ann B. Lesk will represent NYCLA at a July 29 public hearing that is being held by the SDNY’s Ad Hoc Committee on Cell Phones. Ms. Lesk stated: “NYCLA strongly favors attorneys being able to use cell phones, laptops, PDAs and other electronic devices in the courthouse in an appropriate, professional manner and for appropriate purposes of professional communication. We believe that reasonable provisions can be put in place to address concerns concerning security and decorum. Attorneys should, absent specific exigent circumstances, be allowed to bring and use electronic devices in the courthouse. Use of such devices in the courtroom should also be permitted, subject to imposition of reasonable restrictions or conditions by the presiding judge. Assistant United States Attorneys and other government lawyers already enjoy the use of cell phones and PDAs inside the courthouse and, absent a compelling reason, we respectfully submit that their adversaries in private practice should be afforded the same privileges.”
The Report acknowledges the court system’s security concerns in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks that prompted the prohibition of cell phones in certain federal courts. At that time, the concern was that small weapons could be disguised as cell phones or hidden in other electronic devices. However, with the practice of using X-ray machines to examine items, policies in some courts became more relaxed. According to the Report, “The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts specifically found that electronic devices ‘do not pose a significant security risk.’” In fact, the Report notes, “…electronic devices are routinely allowed in other government buildings, and they may be carried on airplanes and other forms of public transportation every day.” The report recommends that the use of electronic devices in the courtroom be addressed by the presiding judge.
Use of Electronic Devices in Other Courthouses
According to the Report, “Some courts impose certain restrictions, such as requiring that electronic devices only be used in designated areas within the courthouse or that such devices be turned off or placed in silent mode when inside a courtroom.” Moreover, the Report states, other courthouses in downtown Manhattan allow the use of electronic devices, among them, New York state courts and federal bankruptcy courts. The Eastern District of New York adopted a policy last year permitting attorneys with identification to enter the courthouses with electronic devices and have such devices in courtrooms, as long as cell phones are turned off and laptops and PDAs are rendered “silent.”
Ban on Electronic Devices Poses Burdens
Regarding the burden such a ban poses on attorneys, particularly small-firm and solo practitioners, the Report notes: “Without the use of cell phones and PDAs, and particularly their email features, attorneys who practice regularly in the courthouse are often blocked from contact with their clients, adversaries or other courts for hours at a time. This is particularly disadvantageous for small firms and solo practitioners. The inability to communicate for those hours is a serious professional problem for lawyers in all practices because of the ubiquity of electronic communications, the expectations of accessibility that have been thereby created, and lawyers’ ethical obligations to maintain communications with clients and others…Moreover, Assistant United States Attorneys and other government lawyers already enjoy the use of cell phones and PDAs inside the courthouse and, absent a compelling reason, we respectfully submit that their adversaries in private practice should be afforded the same privileges.”
Two other NYCLA committees – the Cyberspace Law and Solo & Small-Firm Practice Committees – also endorse the use of cell phones, laptops, PDAs and other electronic devices in the courthouse. Federal Courts Committee Member David Y. Loh, who chaired a subcommittee that examined the issue, will appear at the hearing with Ms. Lesk.
The New York County Lawyers’ Association (www.nycla.org) was founded in 1908 as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Since its inception, it has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.
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