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Cellphones no problem at Westmoreland courthouse

Rich Cholodofsky
ttmdisbrCourthouse2073116
Patrick Connolly | Tribune-Review
Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg.

Courtroom visitors at the Westmoreland County Courthouse will continue to have access to cellphones even though the devices are barred from use during court proceedings.

As counties throughout Pennsylvania have adopted new policies in the last year to confiscate and lockup up cellphones to ensure no calls or recordings can be made during court sessions, Westmoreland County officials said Wednesday there are no local plans to further tighten restrictions on those devices.

“It’s never come up, and I’ve never really heard a complaint about it,” said Common Pleas Court President Judge Richard E. McCormick Jr. “We’re not going to make any changes just because other counties have had a problem.”

A new policy enacted this month at the Erie County Courthouse requires visitors to turn off their phones upon entering the building and place the devices in special pouches that lock and can be opened only before leaving.

Erie County paid $7,500 to buy 500 locking pouches for cellphones.

Similar policies have been enacted in Lancaster and Philadelphia.

Court officials throughout the state have warned against using cellphones to record court sessions. A spectator who this month posted online pictures and audio recorded during the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial in Bucks County was found in contempt of court and sentenced to perform 50 hours of community service.

McCormick said there are no documented instances where the recording of court sessions in Westmoreland County resulted in criminal charges.

Sheriff Jonathan Held, whose staff of deputies provide security in the courtrooms, said there have been a few incidents over the years related to cellphone use during court proceedings.

“If we see it, we can confiscate phones. But we’ve had no major incidents or problems,” Held said.

Signs appear throughout the downtown Greensburg courthouse telling visitors that cellphones and recording devices are prohibited from use in courtrooms. There are no security points at doors to most individual courtrooms.

“It would not be difficult to collect phones, but it would take some manpower to get it done,” Held said.

County Park Police Chief Kirk Nolan, whose staff of officers patrol courthouse grounds and staff metal detectors at entrances to the building, said he would lobby against instituting cellphone collections, noting many visitors use their phones as part of routine business conducted in other offices in the courthouse office complex.

McCormick conceded that cellphones have been improperly used in local courtrooms but suggested it hasn’t reached levels where formal action is required.

“Maybe Westmoreland County court visitors have better phone etiquette,” McCormick said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].

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