Rules apply equally: judge disciplines himself

by HRM26 Apr 2013

If rules aren’t applied equally it builds resentment and encourages those without power to disregard policy. A judge in Michigan who broke his own cellphone rule knows that fact very well.

Judge Raymond Voet held himself in contempt of court after his smartphone rang during a hearing, fining himself US$25.

Voet had a posted policy stating that electronic devices causing a disturbance during court sessions would result in the owner being cited with contempt, according to the Sentinel-Standard of Ionia.

The incident happened during a prosecutor's closing argument as part of a jury trial. Voet's new smartphone began to emit sounds requesting phone voice commands.

"I'm guessing I bumped it. It started talking really loud, saying 'I can't understand you. Say something like Mom,'" he said.

Voet has used a Blackberry mobile phone for years, and said he wasn't as familiar with the operation of the new touchscreen, Windows-based phone.

"That's an excuse, but I don't take those excuses from anyone else. I set the bar high, because cellphones are a distraction and there is very serious business going on," he said. "The courtroom is a special place in the community, and it needs more respect than that."

In previous incidents the judge had held police officers, attorneys, witnesses, spectators and friends accountable to his rule. During a break in the trial, Voet held himself in contempt, fined himself and paid the fine.

"Judges are humans," Voet said. "They're not above the rules. I broke the rule and I have to live by it."