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    Local officials silence cell phones in offices

    Fed up with noisy cell phones, some Tampa Bay area officials ban them in their offices.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 16, 2001

    [Times photo: James Borchuck]
    Tampa attorney David Henry talks to a client on his cell phone behind the circuit and county court building Tuesday in St. Petersburg.
    The first time she got really annoyed, Pinellas Clerk of Circuit Court Karleen F. De Blaker was greeting jurors. "This cellular phone rang real loud. Of course, he was sitting right in front of me," she said.

    She kept talking and so did he. "I just stopped and said, 'Sir, will you please hang up your cellular phone.' He did," De Blaker said.

    The second time was in the Clearwater clerk's office where a woman couldn't get a clear cellular connection in the hallway so she moved inside to the busy counter area.

    De Blaker said people are "just darn rude with that stuff."

    She's now telling her employees they don't have to take it anymore. De Blaker got so fed up with annoying cell phones that she put up signs asking customers to "turn off all cell phones & pagers before entering office" and told clerks they don't have to serve yakking customers.

    Pinellas offices are not the only ones with such rules. Hillsborough also recently has placed restrictions on cell-phone use at the clerks' counters.

    "People will be talking on their cellular phones while getting ready to be served at the counter, trying to negotiate with the clerk while they are still carrying on the conversation," De Blaker said. "Now, nobody is not that important. I mean you're just not."

    She doesn't know whether it has worked since the signs went up in the clerks offices around the county a few months ago. The records warehouse in Largo also has the same rules.

    In Hillsborough County, customers are asked as a courtesy to refrain from using their cellular phones inside the building.

    "It really is for their own benefit," said Richard Ake, Hillsborough's clerk of Circuit Court. The signs went up about three months ago after complaints from customers that they could not hear because of cellular-phone conversations.

    Since then, there have been no gripes.

    Robert L. Jones, who owns a Clearwater-based firm of process servers, said De Blaker's rules have not affected his workers.

    "None of my people have made any comment about the signs," Jones said. "Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, we have radios and cell phones but we don't even take them into the courthouse," said Jones, although he could see how the new rule could be a strain on a smaller firm that relies heavily on cellular contact.

    Other Circuit Court clerks in the Tampa Bay area have not imposed any regulations.

    Pasco Clerk of Court Jed Pittman said judges, of course, don't allow them in the courtrooms. But "I don't care if they bring them in the clerk's offices. We don't care," Pittman said.

    Still, De Blaker, who says she seldom uses her own cell phone, thinks people just don't know how to be courteous.

    "I think if people talked in a normal tone of voice, I don't think it would disturb them," De Blaker said. "But they act like they do what they do with the old tin cans."

    Recent coverage

    Bad calls (April 30, 2001)

    A phone rings; suddenly, a man lies dead (April 26, 2001)

    The rising din of cell phones (April 2, 2001)

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