Electronics Ban Goes Into Effect in Cambria County, Pa., Offices

Photography and video recording is already prohibited from courtrooms and during court proceedings, but the small size of current personal electronic devices made it increasingly challenging to enforce those rules.

by Jocelyn Brumbaugh, The Tribune-Democrat / June 3, 2019
Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

(TNS) — Starting Monday, visitors to the Cambria County Courthouse, Central Park Complex, domestic relations and district magistrate offices will have to adhere to a policy prohibiting cameras, cellphones and other electronic devices from certain areas of those facilities.

In May, President Judge Norman Krumenacker III signed an order to put a personal electronic device policy in place effective June 1 to prohibit recording devices of all kinds from county facilities.

Along with domestic relations and district magistrate offices, certain personal electronic devices will be banned from the second and third floors of the Cambria County Courthouse and all areas of the Central Park Complex after the security checkpoint.

“[The public] is going to have to be patient,” Krumenacker said. “Because there’s going to be a learning curve. But we will be enforcing it. We will be confiscating phones.”

Photography and video recording is already prohibited from courtrooms and during court proceedings, but the small size of current personal electronic devices made it increasingly challenging to enforce those rules, Krumenacker’s order said.

“This policy is intended to deter and prevent the disruption of court proceedings by electronic devices, [to] prevent the recording of security procedures, and to eliminate the potential for intimidation of witnesses and other participants in court proceedings through the use of such devices to photograph or record these individuals,” the order states.

Krumenacker’s order says the policy was created “in the interest of safety and security.”

“The proliferation of mobile personal electronic devices has resulted in a rise in safety and security concerns in the courtrooms and public areas adjacent to the courtrooms,” Krumenacker wrote.

“In the past several years, incidents have occurred where photographs and video and audio recordings were made during court proceedings in violation of existing rules. In addition, there is an increase in the occurrence of disruptions caused by cellular phones and other devices ringing during court proceedings.”

Starting Monday, members of the public entering one of the county facilities included in the policy who have not received permission in advance to bring in an electronic device “must surrender their cellular phone or personal electronic device to the sheriff’s officers at the entrance to the court facility to be placed in a secured locker or return the cellular phone or personal electronic device to their vehicle,” according to the policy.

The policy applies to cellphones, smartphones, cameras, camera-equipped devices, all devices capable of video and/or audio recording, laptop computers, computer tablets, all devices capable of connecting to the internet, all devices capable of sending or receiving SMS or MMS messages and all devices capable of making or receiving phone calls or other two-way communications.

Those exempt from the policy include attorneys and law enforcement on official business, Cambria County and court employees while at work and credentialed members of the media.

Krumenacker said he researched similar policies in other counties before drafting Cambria County’s version.

In time, Krumenacker said he hopes the public adjusts to the policy and gets used to leaving such devices in their vehicles before entering these county facilities.

Court staff and court security officers may confiscate and search cellular phones being used in violation of the policy and violators may be subject to a $25 fine, removal from the courtroom, loss of privilege to bring personal electronic devices into court facilities, contempt proceedings and expulsion from the court facility.

A presiding judge may permit the use of photography and recording devices during court proceedings as permitted by law or ceremonial functions such as adoptions, weddings, naturalization proceedings and investiture proceedings, the policy says, but permission to use these devices must be obtained in advance of the proceeding or ceremony.

The Cambria County Commissioners traditionally hold their meetings on the third floor of the courthouse, and citizens’ right to film public meetings has prompted county officials to look into changing the meeting location.

“The commissioners office will cooperate with anyone wishing to film a commissioners meeting,” said county Solicitor Bill Barbin.

Barbin said the commissioners are hoping to hold their bi-monthly meetings in the jury room, which is located in the courthouse basement.

Because the meetings will be held in the same building, Barbin said the commissioners will advertise the location change through signs posted throughout the courthouse.

There have been concerns about whether the basement of the courthouse has cellphone reception to stream the meetings live to social media sites, but Barbin said the law is clear: government agencies are required to allow citizens their right to film public meetings, but are not required to provide internet or cell reception to accomodate for live streaming, he said.

“We will make sure we comply with the law,” he said.

The commissioners’ next meeting is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. June 13 at Duman Lake Park near Belsano, so there is time to reach a final decision on a permanent meeting location before the board’s next meeting that’s scheduled to be held at the courthouse at 10 a.m. June 27.

©2019 The Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.