A cell phone going off in a movie theater is annoying enough, but for Michigan judge Raymond Voet, handsets emitting any kind of noise during a court hearing is such a serious issue that he imposed a rule stipulating that violators would be cited with contempt and fined $25. He even posted signs around the Ionia courthouse to ensure no one could plead ignorance if their phone went off during a hearing.
However, last week, to his great embarrassment, Voet’s own phone kicked off during a trial as a prosecutor delivered his closing arguments. Being an upstanding member of the community, albeit one not too familiar with smartphone technology, Voet promptly held himself in contempt and paid the fine.
Speaking to local news site MLive.com about the awkward incident, the district judge said, “I got very embarrassed and I’m sure my face turned red. I thought it would never happen to me.”
Voet’s explanation as to how it happened – while it won’t make particularly pleasant reading for Thorsten Heins – may resonate with other phone users who’ve had to wrestle with their device after switching platforms. You see, a few days before the incident, the judge ditched his BlackBerry handset, which he’d been using for years, for a Windows device.
He assumes the phone, which was in his shirt pocket, wasn’t locked when he took his seat in the courtroom. Somehow, the voice activation feature – a feature he didn’t even know the phone had – switched on and started responding, saying things like “I can’t understand you” and “say something like ‘mom’”. Voet said that after retrieving it from his pocket, he then had trouble turning it off.
“There was some nervous laughter,” he recalled.
The judge said his excuse that it was an accident wasn’t acceptable because “I don’t take those excuses from anyone else.”
He added, “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.”
Voet said that over the course of many years, he’s taken phones away from not just members of the public, but also police officers, attorneys and witnesses.
“Judges are humans,” Voet said. “They’re not above the rules. I broke the rule and I have to live by it.”