Illinois High Court Allows Cameras in Courts
The Illinois Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it will begin allowing cameras in the state's trial courtrooms, but how soon people get local court TV depends on where they live.
Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride said the decision is a step toward bringing more transparency to Illinois courts. He made cameras in the courtroom a priority of his three-year term as Illinois' top judge. But he acknowledged that there could be resistance from lawyers and judges, which he said is fine for now.
"This experiment has got to be done on a voluntary basis," Kilbride said. "If people are going to object, the trial judge will probably say no. It's got to be a consensual kind of thing."
Illinois has allowed cameras to be present during Supreme Court and Appellate Court hearings since 1983. At the time of that decision, the court continued the ban during trials because of fair trial concerns.present. The state has been just one of 14 states that don't allow cameras during criminal trials.
Under the change, the state's 23 circuit courts have to opt-in the the system. At least two downstate chief judges -- those whose circuits are based around Champaign County and Madison County -- say they will have to discuss the matter with their colleagues.
Chief Judge John Shonkweiler with the 6th Circuit, which includes Champaign, Dewitt, and Douglas Counties, says he'll wait to comment until after a chief judges meeting on February 17th.
In the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Vermilion, Coles, and Edgar Counties, Chief Judge Millard Everhart says he's looking at the policy to see if it's appropriate for the circuit, and will be consulting with the rest of it before deciding whether to become part of the project.
Robert Loeb, a criminal defense attorney in Chicago and an instructor at DePaul's law school, said balance cameras in the courtroom are a good thing. However, he worries that selective use of trial clips in newscasts could be a problem for the accused.
"Let's assume that I've got an innocent client. And let's assume that he gets found not guilty," Loeb said. "The infamy that comes from the coverage of a criminal trial is not going to help that person's life."
Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans said he's an enthusiastic supporter of the plan. He presides over the largest court system in the state, and he said he will apply to participate in the pilot project. He said when people see the courts in action, it helps the cause of justice.
"They will have more confidence about coming to court and have more confidence about the kind of proceedings that really do lead to justice in this community," Evans said.
Evans said he will form a committee to deal with concerns cameras and audio recordings could interfere with impartiality.
Kilbride added that the experimental phase of this effort will help determine if media access and fair trials can co-exist. Broadcasters have long advocated for the use of cameras and tape recorders during criminal trials, pointing to the public's right to know.
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)