The Buzzing Bush

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 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.

21 thoughts on “The Buzzing Bush”

  1. JT:

    “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.”


    Sorry, I missed this post. You were a little oblique about the “chase.” How’s your 40 time?

  2. I have not been in court for a long time, but I can remember when the judges in Cook County took great umbrage to any phones or pagers going off in the courtroom. I don’t remember any jail time threats,however.

  3. i’ve been trying to find a clip of Maxwell Smart talking into his shoe phone at youtube. Didn’t find one but did watch several blooper reels.

  4. I was in college right when cell phones started to become ubiquitous. At the end of every year, the music technology department would gather all the unclaimed cell phones from the computer lab and fire them at the side of the building from a potato gun.

    Man was that fun.

  5. Damn and I thought it was a porn site…I’ll never be the same….

  6. Yissil
    1, August 10, 2010 at 2:33 pm
    How can not be illegal? Or at least wouldn’t they get a million lawsuits?

    The internet is weird.

    Pardon me while I go check out

    OMG there really is a! answers blouise’s question, too.


    Honeybees! lol

  7. How can not be illegal? Or at least wouldn’t they get a million lawsuits?

    The internet is weird.

    Pardon me while I go check out

    OMG there really is a! answers blouise’s question, too.

  8. Whooliebacon,

    I thought that was an egg tree….man am I uninformed….

  9. Had a lot of fun thinking about the “buzzing bush.” That is a masterful combination of words.

  10. 99% of all courtrooms have cameras that have views of every aspect of the courtroom, including the jury box. While these photos are not widely disseminated, if a person takes a picture with the cell phone camera it will be seen. There are lots of ways to get pictures if you are intent on that level. I have seen brief cases rigged as well as a lapel pin hiding cameras.

    I think its the annoyance and disruption factor that drives the Judges to impose these simple rules of civility. Common sense sometimes is left at the door, when it comes to a ringing phone. If I engage someone or I am engaged in a conversation, if I am expecting a call I will tell them. I find it disrespectful and as a matter of fact rude to be talking with someone and have them answer the cell in the middle of a conversation.

    There was a Judge that was rather flip and at the same time candid about phones in his courtroom. This was a no exception policy. The first order of business was to ask everyone to silence the cells or pagers. Notes were posted on the door and walls. If your phone or pager rang while the court was in session it would be seized, you will be fine 100.00 dollars and you may pick it up at the sheriffs office after they return the inmates which was about a 24 mile drive from the Courthouse.

    This happened once or twice and word got around….

  11. I work in a Maryland Circuit Court which only bans cell phones with cameras. The purpose is to prevent photo’s of judges, jurors and witnesses, especially undercover police and informants, from popping up on places like facebook. Local attorneys are provided with ID’s which get them past the checkpoint, but out of town attorney’s have a problem. Also, almost all cell phones these days have cameras.

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