I am getting a lot of emails on the location of the “buzzing bush” that I mentioned this week in remarks at the ABA Convention in San Francisco. I mentioned that some courts have banned cellphones entirely — a practice that I oppose. This has led attorneys in one court to leave their cellphones secreted in a bush outside the door of the court which continually buzzes. While Moses has the burning bush, spectators encounter the buzzing bush outside of the Eastern District of Virginia.
I was serving as a panelist and moderator on a panel on high-profile trials with Judges Barbara Lynn, Reggie Walton, and Gene Pratter. Also on the panel were David Boies and journalist Ron Sylvester.
It was an extraordinary discussion that ranged from television in the courtroom to limitations on jurors and lawyers as well as journalists. I was frankly surprised to see the wires pick up on the buzzing bush comment. This led to lawyers asking if I was referring to their courthouses. While such spectacles may be found in other courts, I was referring to the Eastern District where attorneys are often rushing for court and either forgot about the rule or were not informed.
In D.C., attorneys are allowed to keep their phones so long as they are put on silent ring and turned off while in the courtroom. While I have seen a few instances where attorneys forgot to turn off their phones in the courtroom (leading to buzzing in mikes), they are generally quite responsible.
On the panel, Mr. Sylvester also showed how he can tweet from inside a courtroom without being conspicuous or obnoxious. Mr. Bois discussed how he had not seen a problem in courts with television links in Florida. The judges discussed how they try to accommodate media but they also discussed the risks to witnesses etc. Judge Pratter discussed such sites as whosarat.com which can pose a threat to witnesses. Judge Walton also discussed how the private lives of judges (including his own during the Libby trial) can be pulled into the public during high-profile trials. Judge Lynn discussed how judges are now faced with a barrage of technology from lawyers, jurors, and media.
It was a fantastic discussion and San Francisco was a wonderful location. My highlight came when I was coming back on a public bus from the Golden Gate bridge. After a wonderful walk across the bridge, I was returning on a bus when a young man stole the cellphone of a rider in front of me. A chase ensued but with no luck. I was also a bit surprised to see the numbers of people selling drugs in Golden Gate park with little effort to concealment. This does not take away from the city, however. It remains one of my favorite cities on Earth and it was a great time for everyone at the convention.