Judge fines himself for cell phone use in the courtroom

The Sideshow

Use your cell phone in Judge Raymond Voet’s Michigan courtroom and you’ll be held in contempt. Over the years, he’s confiscated phones from all sorts of people, even police officers.

So what happened when Voet’s own phone went off during the closing arguments of a trial?

Voet, a man who honors his own convictions, fined himself and held himself in contempt.

"Judges are humans," Voet said. "They're not above the rules. I broke the rule, and I have to live by it."

The Sentinel-Standard reported that the judge promptly issued himself a $25 fine and admitted he was embarrassed, saying the incident was accidental as he’s learning to use a new type of phone.

"I'm guessing I bumped it. It started talking really loud, saying, 'I can't understand you. Say something like Mom,'" he said.

For years, Voet used a BlackBerry. He recently switched to a touchscreen smartphone.

"That's an excuse, but I don't take those excuses from anyone else," Voet said. "I set the bar high because cellphones are a distraction and there is very serious business going on. The courtroom is a special place in the community and it needs more respect than that."

Voet says he implemented the ban as a means of avoiding unnecessary distractions. But cell phone use in the courtroom can have greater consequences than mere distractions.

Last week, a Chicago judge banned the use of phones in his courtrooms, saying that audio recordings and photos taken of witnesses inside the courtroom had directly resulted in intimidations and even murder.

I’m trying to prevent what could be a tragedy, and I’m trying to do it for justice’s sake,” Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans told CBS.

Not every courtroom in the world has such rigid rules when it comes to electronic communication. In the U.K., smartphone use was recently given a formal OK, including the use of outgoing text messages and updates to social media sites.