Assistant U.S. Attorneys are allowed to have their cellphones inside the courtroom (under a court-created "law-enforcement duties" exception to the general ban), and I can only imagine that agents are allowed to do so as well. Up until now I always thought that it had something to do with one of two matters:
- Court security
- Judges either not wanting to hear a phone ring in the middle of a proceeding or in the lobby, or simply not wanting someone calling a radio station to have the court proceedings broadcast over the airwaves.
Well here is a new one I had not thought of. It appears that there was a rumor in some courthouse that someone from inside the courtroom was sending text messages (either using a blackberry or a cellphone) to a sequestered witness regarding testimony inside the courtroom. See Text Messaging and Trials: A Volatile Mix at law.com.
But what most caught my eye in that article was the following:
Most recently, wireless gadgets caught the ire of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which recently sent letters to chief judges in all federal courts warning them of the security risks associated with wireless technology. The Judicial Conference, which does not have a policy specifically on wireless communication, advised judges to adopt policies to regulate the use of such technology in the courts.
I do not know whether the District of Puerto Rico has adopted any such policy beyond the banning of all cellphones by attorneys (unless you happen to be an AUSA) and the public. That has been in effect for some time now, and I do not know when the communication from the Judicial Conference took place. It seems to me, however, that there should be no disticntion between Assistant U.S. Attorneys and other attorneys. The law enforcement rationale is not convincing. After all, they could have a beeper if someone needed them that badly, and then they could call at the next available moment ... from the pay phones, just like we have to do.
Update: For a good reason why the Court should allow all attorneys - or none at all - to use and have their cellphones inside the courthouse (or at the very least to have) see my post at Macondo Law: There's a Crook at the Federal Court's Security Checkpoint. To this day the theft remains unsolved.