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Judge Re-Thinking Courthouse Cell Phone Ban, With Domestic Violence Victims In Mind

(CBS) -- There may be changes to a cell phone ban that is slated to begin Jan. 14 at numerous Cook County courthouses, CBS 2 has learned.

The Cook County Sheriff's Department has raised concerns about enforcing a ban, in a story first reported by Brad Edwards.  Also expressing misgivings is a prominent advocacy group for domestic violence victims.

"A cell phone is a tool for safety," says Denice Wolf Markham of Life Span.  "They're in constant danger because that abuser knows their movements."

One of the proposed cell phone-ban sites is the domestic violence courthouse at 555 West Harrison St.

One victim who arrived there Friday said she'd be reluctant to go if she couldn't keep a cell phone with her for safety purposes. Her ex-boyfriend has threatened her, she says.

"He's going to kill me if I leave him," the woman, who asked that her identity be concealed, told Edwards.

"Why would you not want someone to have a phone if you're in a dispute like this?"  she said.

Markham hopes Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans will re-think the cell phone ban and some of its unintended consequences. She recently sent a letter to him outlining her organization's fears.

Evans says a major impetus for restricting cell phones at courthouses is the activity of gang members. They have used cell phones to take pictures of witnesses, to text testimony and also as a means of intimidation, the judge told Edwards previously.

Now his office tells CBS 2 Evans is weighing the concerns of domestic violence victims and expects to work out solutions by next week.

"Chief Judge Evans is keenly aware of the concerns that have been raised because the court reached out to the domestic violence community for its reaction shortly after the ban on electronic devices was announced," a statement said. "Chief Judge Evans does want the public to remember that the purpose of the ban is to protect people coming to court from intimidation and to make sure that justice is done."

The ban will take place at 13 facilities – with exception to lawyers, media and others.  Here they are:

·               The George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building at 2600 S. California Ave., Chicago, commonly known as "26th and Cal."

·               The Cook County Juvenile Center, 1100 West Hamilton Ave., Chicago

·               The Domestic Violence Courthouse, 555 West Harrison St., Chicago

·               The Second Municipal District Skokie Courthouse, 5600 Old Orchard Road

·               The Third Municipal District Rolling Meadows Courthouse, 2121 Euclid Road

·               The Fourth Municipal District Maywood Courthouse, 1500 Maybrook Drive

·               The Fifth Municipal District Bridgeview Courthouse, 10220 S. 76th Ave.

·               The Sixth Municipal District Markham Courthouse, 16501 S. Kedzie Parkway

·               5555 W. Grand Ave., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 23 and 50)

·               2452 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 29 and 42)

·               155 W. 51st St., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 34 and 48)

·               727 E. 111th St., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 35 and 38)

·               3150 W. Flournoy St., Chicago (First Municipal District criminal branches 43 and 44)

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