Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Courthouses Gone Bad

Did you know that I live and work in the baddest county in North Carolina? That's our reputation, whether deserved or not. But apparently the residents of Central Illinois are far worse, to the point of being uncontrollable. I would expect that in Chicago or New York, but certainly not in Central Illinois.

I had done all my preparation work to visit courthouses in Illinois. I'd read through courthouse websites and verified hours and locations. Something I did not find for any of the five courthouses was a list of prohibited items. We all know that weapons are not allowed in any courthouse. I'm fine with that, but apparently new rules are popping up.

Arriving at the door of the Morgan County courthouse, I found a sign stating no cellphones were allowed. This was new since my last visit. I talked with the deputy on duty, then slipped out and surreptitiously left my phone in the car. This didn't please me, as I am responsible 24/7/365 to my own county of employment if something goes wrong with key computer systems (including the jury system, ironically). But if I wanted to read those probate files, I had to abide by the rules.

The next morning I checked out of my hotel in Decatur, Illinois, and proceeded to the Macon County courthouse. I anticipated the cell phone ban and had locked that in the car. But at security I was confronted with an unbelievable, unprinted, unposted, undocumented ban. The deputy told me verbally that the Macon County courthouse does not allow computers or other electronic equipment to be brought in by the public. I was stunned and flabbergasted. This was not on the courthouse web site. This was not even posted at the door.

This ban destroyed my well-laid plans for that morning. I was not about to lock hundreds of dollars of computer equipment in my car in full view of the courthouse. Nor did I have paper notes prepared. Thus I was not able to look at those old guardianship records and naturalization records. Having paid once to visit the town, I'll now have to pay again for a local researcher to go do that research for me.

This definitely left me with a very unfavorable view of Macon County, Illinois. It is now number one on my disliked county courthouse list (Ross County, Ohio, moves to number two).

When I returned to my home county in North Carolina, I sat down with one of the experts on our own jury system. I asked what rules our courthouse has for the public. I work in the administration building and have never had to go to the courthouse (did I hear a jury notice just hit my mailbox -- I'm certainly tempting fate).

A citizen in the baddest county in North Carolina is welcome to bring their laptop, tablet and/or phone into the courthouse. The jury waiting room has public wi-fi for the use of the jurors. When a citizen enters a courtroom, the phones and computers must be turned off.

Apparently we in a Southern city are more polite and respectful than the farmers in Central Illinois.

The moral of this story is that courthouse rules are ever changing. Had I called ahead, I could have delayed my hotel checkout, left the electronics there and done the 90 minutes of research per my plan.

So be sure to call ahead to find out what's banned before visiting a courthouse.

1 comment:

  1. I have done a little courthouse searching - not with much luck in anything but a couple of deeds