Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

1410 Posts and Counting

Twittering away the Idle Hours on Jury Duty: Forget It.

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | March 18, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

If you have to report for jury duty, it may be a good idea to leave your iphone or Blackberry behind. No one has made any public announcements, at least not to my knowledge, but don’t be surprised to see the tipstaff collecting electronic devices at the door. Word has been going around the internet for a while, and now the main line news about jurors causing mistrials by getting and giving out information on the web during trial. The New York Times picked up the stories I’d seen on the web and added a few more in an article that appeared today, March 18.

Judges have been directing tipstaves (yes, that’s the correct plural form) to confiscate cell phones that ring in court for years. The first time it happened to me, I worried about getting it back. Last December, the tipstaff at a Magisterial District Judge’s Office announced to the daily overflow crowd of litigants that a fine would be collected for the return of ringing cell phones, with the proceeds being used to finance a Christmas party for orphans. Nice touch.

With the near universality of cell phones, mass collection at court houses presents a host of problems to the owner. What are you to do if your cell phone or electronic device is not there when you come back for it? Perhaps somebody else, who owns an identical device, claimed it by mistake. Perhaps someone just grabbed it. And perhaps someone is listening to your voicemail and reading your email.

It is not too hard to imagine emails being read while an electronic device is in temporary custody. This raises ethical concerns for lawyers who typically have emails from client that can be accessed from their iphones or Blackberries. If you are a criminal defendant at a Magistrate’s office, the tipstaff could hand your device to the arresting officer to peruse during the interminable wait for the case to come up.

Pack some quarters and use a pay phone to call for your ride home. They still exist and can usually be found in or near court houses. Ask the tipstaff. He or she may even let you use the land line phone on a nearby desk.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

  • Recent Posts

  • Posts You Might Like

  • Subscribe to our feed