New Maryland Rule on Cellphones in Court

The Court of Appeals of Maryland has recently enacted a state-wide rule on the use and possession of cell phones and other electronic devices in courthouses.

Previously, possession and use of electronic devices was governed on a county-by-county basis and each court had its own rule. Some courts allowed everyone to have mobile devices, some restricted mobile devices to lawyers only, and some prohibited mobile devices entirely.

For lawyers with statewide practices (like me), this could be pretty confusing in terms of keeping track of whether I could have and use my own mobile device, and in terms of advising my clients about what they would be permitted to take into the courthouse. Sure there were signs, but they didn’t help much when you saw the sign on your way into the courthouse for a pre-trial conference and found out you would need to schedule a trial date without the calendar you stored electronically on your Blackberry. Yes, I am talking about you, Howard County.

Now the Court has adopted new Maryland Rule 16-110. Cell phones and other electronic devices may be taken into and used in all Maryland District and Circuit Courts. Of course, there are some restrictions. The devices are subject to inspection by security personnel, and may not be used to record or photograph court proceedings or in any other way that interferes with the work of the court. The rule also allows for modification by judges in cases where there are specific privacy or security concerns.

Notably, the Rule specifically allows lawyers to “make reasonable and lawful use of an electronic device in connection with the proceeding.” I take this to mean that, for example, in a scheduling conference, an electronic device would be allowed to be used for calendaring, or to call the office to check calendar dates to schedule a trial.

I’m glad that the Court of Appeals has finally put into place a common-sense, statewide rule on this. Now if they’d only come up with a statewide rule on photo ID security passes for lawyers…..