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Judge bans cellphones from court during Baltimore consent decree hearings

A federal judge issued an order Monday banning cellphones and other electronic devices from the courtroom at Friday’s hearing on Baltimore police reform progress under the federal consent decree.

The order prohibits electronic devices from being possessed in the courtroom without the express permission of U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar. It applies to all further proceedings in the case.

David Ciambruschini, an attorney advisor with the court, said members of the public can continue to use devices in a fourth-floor overflow room where proceedings will be live-streamed, as with in past hearings. He could not provide details on the reason for the policy announcement.

“This is sort of a standard procedure that a lot of different judges use for high security or high notoriety cases,” he said. “We’ve done it a few times for other high publicized events.”

Kenneth L. Thompson, head of the monitoring team overseeing implementation of the consent decree, said he was aware of the order but did not know the reason for it.

Court employees, U.S. Marshals, attorneys for the parties, state and federal law enforcement employees and other individuals involved in the case are exempted. Members of the public are “advised not to bring any such electronic devices to the courthouse.”

Ciambruschini said anyone who does have a prohibited device can place it in a storage locker outside the courtroom that will be secured. The jury box will be made available for members of the press who want to observe proceedings in the courtroom but they must place their devices in the provided storage first.

Friday’s public hearing is to review progress toward “full and effective compliance” with the consent decree. The parties are expected to address the three areas that have been the subject of monthly conferences — transportation of persons in custody, misconduct investigations and use of force — as well as progress on related technology.

The hearing will take place at 10 a.m. in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

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