Turn Off Your Cellphone or Go To Jail?

cellphone.jpgIs this legal?

An Indiana state court judge held three spectators in contempt (and restrained them for “more than an hour”) after they allegedly refused to admit whose cellphone was ringing. Two spectators later admitted their malfeasance: one was fined $100, the other forced to serve 40 hours of community service. And a third spectator is to serve 40 hours for not telling the judge that he knew whose phone was ringing!

I hope there is more to the story than this. Because if there isn’t, this seems like a fairly tough, verging on punitive, remedy, especially for the spectator whose only contempt was not disclosing that he knew that another spectator’s phone had rung. Punitive contempt proceedings require more than summary justice.

This should also serve as a reminder to incoming first-year students. Turn your phones off. Professors, who may conceive of the classroom as a mini-courtroom, will certainly become annoyed if a phone rings during class. For what it is worth, my remedy is to call on the owner of a ringing phone, and continue to dialogue with them for the duration of class. My contracts class this fall lasts two hours. I imagine it won’t happen twice.

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3 Responses

  1. Paul Gowder says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with this. Judges are surely entitled to order the cellphones off, and are surely entitled to enforce that order. One hour’s restraint and a hundred dollar fine isn’t much. The forty hours seems too tough, but within the range of discretion.

    The alternative is for the courts to do what they did in the local federal court: ban all electronic devices without exception. Do you know how bloody irritating that is, to not even be able to bring a palm pilot in? And how inconvenient it is for witnesses, clients, etc. who forget? Much better to force them to be off and strongly deter the violators.

  2. recent grad says:

    Wow. When I was in law school cell phones would ring with some regularity (maybe once or twice over the course of a term per class), but the professors always just ignored it. I was rather impressed by their (uniform!) discretion and easy-going nature. I think it would make a professor who retaliated against a student for something minor like this look rather petty.

  3. Matt says:

    The people who throw trash on the ground outside my apartment, grad, also don’t think it’s that much of a problem. Those making a mess and being annoying rarely do.