Editorial: Allow cell phones in Michigan courtrooms

The Detroit News
The Michigan Supreme Court should pass a proposed amendment to court rules that would allow cell phones and other electronic devices in state courthouses.

The Michigan Supreme Court should embrace the 21st century and adopt a proposed amendment to court rules that would allow cell phones and other electronic devices in state courthouses.

The court held a public hearing on the matter Wednesday.

The proposal, submitted by the Michigan State Planning Body, is intended to form consistent policy in Michigan courthouses regarding cell phones and electronic devices.

Among other benefits, this measure would dramatically reduce the cost to the public of obtaining copies of court records or other documents made available to them through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

Say you make a request for a 50-page document, and the clerk charges $1 per page to copy it, as they do in Mason County — that’s $50 you'd have to pay for information made available to you by law.

That price could deter citizens and the media from accessing information they may need. 

Giving people the ability to flip through original files and use a smartphone or other device to take snapshots of the relevant information would save paper, time and money.

And that's precisely why courthouse clerks don't like it. The measure would effectively strip clerk's offices of the revenue generated from making copies. But the purpose of FOIA was never to pad the budgets of local governments. 

More:County clerks: We’ll lose money if people can have phones in courthouses

This ought not to be about generating revenue. Promoting the free flow of information is more important than a government office’s bottom line. 

It ought to be as simple, efficient and cheap as possible for the public to get information that belongs to them.

Other concerns about the proposal center on the potential threat to order in the courtroom that cell phones could pose. 

But today, most people run their lives through their cell phones.

Lawyers need to be able to access their case files and contact clients. People commuting to court need to be able to call for a ride. 

Among the 49 public comments listed on the matter at the Michigan Supreme Court website, one diabetic citizen notes how he uses his phone to track his glucose levels.

Another entry, a petition in favor of the amendment, has more than 160 signatures.

As far as threats to order in the court, we ought to trust judges and bailiffs to adjust to modern times. The measure would be more of a boon than a threat.

The court should adopt it.