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Cook County to apply for new cameras in the courtroom experimental program

Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by DAVE MCKINNEY AND LISA DONOVAN

SPRINGFIELD — Now that the Illinois Supreme Court has announced it will allow cameras in trial courts on an experimental basis, Cook County’s chief judge says he wants in.

Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Tim Evans says he’d like the local courts to participate in the program.

“I will apply to the Illinois Supreme Court’s pilot project to allow extended media coverage in Circuit Court of Cook County courtrooms,” Evans said in statement.

“If approved for participation in the pilot program, the Circuit Court of Cook County will enthusiastically adhere to the guidelines established by the Illinois Supreme Court.”

Evans saids he’ll appoint an advisory committee to make recommendations on best practices for implementing the policy.

“Allowing media to have cameras and recording devices in the courtroom will give the public a better idea of what goes on in their courtrooms, and they will understand that what they see on television court shows is not a true picture of how judges do justice,” he said.

The Illinois Supreme Court detailed its historic announcement Tuesday, handing news broadcasters a major victory in a 29-year battle to bring high-profile trials to the masses.

“This is another step to bring more transparency and more accountability to the Illinois court system,” said Chief Justice Kilbride.

“The provisions of this new policy keep discretion in the chief circuit judge and the trial judge to assure that a fair and impartial trial is not compromised yet affords a closer look at the workings of our court system to the public through the eyes of the electronic news media and news photographers,” he said.

The matter has been a high priority for Chief Kilbride, who has pushed the issue during his stint heading the seven-member court.

Until now, Illinois has been among 14 states that did not allow for routine use of cameras in the courtroom by the news media.

The court’s edict would set up a process by which the state’s 23 circuits could petition the Supreme Court to allow cameras to record proceedings. Once a circuit is approved, individual trial judges would leave the final call with a trial judge.

Filming would be disallowed during the testimony of sex abuse victims and other “forcible” felony cases, including when police informants, undercover agents and relocated witnesses are involved.

Cameras also will be barred during juvenile, divorce, adoption, child custody, evidence suppression and trade secret cases under the court’s policy.

Arguments before the state’s appellate courts and the Supreme Court have been allowed since 1983, but television and radio broadcasters have been stymied at the trial court level since then.

One top journalism expert characterized the move by the Illinois high court as a victory for the public, whose only real glimpse into what transpires in courtrooms is through popular television programs.

“Putting cameras in the courtroom and allowing the public to know firsthand what’s going on allows them to see how the court system works and to understand in real life what the judicial system does, rather than depending on ‘Law and Order,’ ‘Perry Mason,’ or ‘L.A. Law,’ ” said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism center.

The news media currently is not allowed to use cameras and tape recorders in federal courts, which meant that Illinoisans could not see or hear the historic proceedings that resulted in federal felony convictions against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

In December, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) joined Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in introducing legislation to require televising U.S. Supreme Court proceedings.

 



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