To the editor:
If you believe, as I do, that DeKalb County is on the wrong side of the law in their banning cell phones from the courthouse, then we are in good company.
The Indiana Legislature has enacted what is known as the Open Door Law. This law allows citizens to oversee the work of their elected officials by keeping public meetings open to citizens.
As part of adopting that law — along with its partner law, the Public Records Act — the state legislature created a special office called the Public Access Counselor (PAC), to act as a go-between for Indiana citizens and public officials in interpreting and enforcing both laws. The name of the current counselor is Luke Britt.
Whenever citizens believe that they are being kept from fully participating in their local government, they can contact the Indianapolis office of the Public Access Counselor to ask for a clarification of the law.
In some cases, citizens can fill out a “formal complaint” asking the PAC to investigate the elected official(s) and issue an “advisory opinion” on whether or not the law is being broken.
This is what happened two years ago in Cass County when Elizabeth A. Thomas filed Formal Complaint No. 18-FC-4 against her county commissioners alleging that the county violated the Open Door Law (ODL) by banning cell phones within the county’s government building.
The commissioners were allowed to present their arguments in response and the counselor then issued his analysis and opinion. You can read the complete document here: https://www.in.gov/pac/advisory/files/18-FC-4.pdf
After quoting from Indiana law 5-14-1.5-1 ff, Mr. Britt writes, “Simply put, unless an exception applies, all meetings of the governing bodies of public agencies must be open at all times for the purpose of permitting members of the public to observe and record them.”
Contrast the Open Door Law — which is law — passed by the state Legislature to what appears to be merely a suggested “rule” or “guidance” for courtroom conduct, which local judges are free to observe or not.
In addition, our elected officials cannot produce a single warning about cell phones in county courthouses from either the Indiana State Police or the Indiana Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. Britt, addressing an option argued by the Cass County Commissioners, states, “…the fact remains that most individuals use their cell phone as their primary device for recording video or audio.” … “Requiring citizens to obtain written permission before being allowed to record a public meeting using their cell phone is effectively a barrier to access...”
Mr. Britt concludes his report stating that by “… denying a citizen the ability to record a public meeting using their cell phone violates the public policy intentions of the Open Door Law.”
In my opinion, what has happened in DeKalb County is that the judges, sheriff, prosecutor, councilmen, commissioners — and the lawyer who advised them — have usurped Indiana law.
By banning cell phones from the courthouse, these public officials have conspired against the citizens of DeKalb County by erecting a “barrier to access” prohibiting citizens from fully participating in the very government processes to which these people were elected to protect.
What recourse is left to the citizens of DeKalb County in the face of such arrogant overreach by their elected officials?
Perhaps we should enter the security cubicle of the courthouse and slam our cell phones against the bulletproof glass — like someone has already done with a handgun — to demonstrate that the citizens of DeKalb County are angry about this deliberate and unprovoked denial of our freedom.