BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Even silenced phones can wreak havoc in courtrooms, prompting a ban on the devices in federal courts in Connecticut.
Signals from silenced cellphones interfered with the recording system in the New Haven courtroom of Senior US District Judge Peter C. Dorsey during a sentencing hearing April 25 for William Tomasso, a New Britain developer, and Peter Ellef, cochief of staff to then-Governor John G. Rowland.
Dorsey repeatedly interrupted lawyer Hugh Keefe because Keefe's words could not be heard over a screeching hum caused by incoming calls to cellphones, even those whose ringers are turned off.
Peter Milner, systems manager for the federal courts, said the frequency of certain cellphones interferes with the courtroom's sound system.
``Even though the phones may be turned to silent, when calls come in, they activate the frequency," he said.
In another example of trouble, cellphone ringing tones were heard during recent proceedings before US District Judge Stefan R. Underhill and US Magistrate William I. Garfinkel at the Bridgeport courthouse.
Kevin Rowe, chief clerk of the federal courts, said the policy banning cellphones in courts was adopted during a recent meeting of the state's federal judges.
``The judges felt something had to be done," he said. ``Even though we had large signs posted on each of the courtrooms' doors asking people to turn off their cellphones and had the courtroom deputies make announcements before proceedings began, cellphones were still going off. That's very distracting for the judges, witnesses, a jury and the lawyers involved."
Federal prosecutors, lawyers, jurors, participants at citizenship proceedings and court or law enforcement agency employees are the only ones to be permitted to bring cellphones into federal courts in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven.
All other visitors will relinquish phones, which will be tagged with a number and placed in a cabinet.