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Cook County Plans To Go Ahead With Cameras In Courtrooms

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(Credit: AP)

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Updated 01/24/12 – 6:33 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chief judges in circuit courts around the state are considering the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision to allow cameras and microphones in courtrooms.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride announced the formal approval of the pilot project, which will allow news cameras and electronic news recording on a trial basis.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Timothy Evans supports the move, and says the court will apply to join the pilot project for cameras in court.

In fact, Evans told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov he believes when it comes to allowing the public to see what really happens in a courtroom, the move is long overdue.

“I want them to see judges do justice the way it really happens,” Evans said.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports

Illinois has allowed news cameras in courtrooms at the Appellate and Supreme Court levels since 1983, but until Tuesday was one of only 14 states that did not allow them in circuit courtrooms.

Cameras captured O.J. Simpson’s murder trial in California and serial killer Jeffery Dahmer’s trial in Wisconsin. But, until now, the only shots cameras could capture in an Illinois courtroom were of empty courtrooms.

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

The Supreme Court says the new program is experimental, and it is up to the chief judge in each of the state’s 23 judicial circuit court systems to decide when, and whether, cameras in courtrooms will be allowed.

“I think people are going to embrace this,” said Illinois Supreme Court Justice Mary Jane Theis. “Ultimately, the trial judge is in control of the courtroom. We’ve got a lot of issues that we’re concerned about; transparency, we’re concerned about the rights of jurors. But we’re also concerned about a dignified atmosphere.”

There will be restrictions on cameras. They won’t be allowed in custody, adoption, divorce and juvenile proceedings. Chief judges in individual circuit courts will have final say about what trials can be taped.

“I would expect that that would be a rare case,” Evans said.

But will cameras in the courtroom change the way lawyers conduct themselves? High-profile murder suspect Drew Peterson’s lawyer, Joel Brodsky, said doesn’t think so.

“We’re there to talk to the 12 people who are making the decision and and perhaps the judge,” Brodsky said.

John Corkery, dean of John Marshall Law School, said “my sense is once people begin to do this, lawyers and judges, they’re going to forget the camera is there.”

The Illinois News Broadcasters Association said it has been pushing to allow cameras and audio recordings into the state’s courtrooms for decades, on First Amendment grounds.

Association president Jennifer Fuller said that judges have been clearly resistant in the past.

“They’ve been worried that it might have a chilling effect on witnesses,” Fuller said. “There were some concerns that some people who had already been victimized might be victimized again.”

With the new policy in place, the public will likely have a chance to sit in electronically on the entire Peterson murder trial. The trial on charges against Peterson in the alleged murder of his third wife, Kathleen Savio, may take place as soon as later this year.

The case against murder suspect William Balfour may also potentially be videotaped.

Balfour, 30, is charged with killing three members of singer Jennifer Hudson’s family – her mother, Darnell Donerson; her brother, Jason Hudson; and Julian King, the 7-year-old son of Hudson’s sister – in October 2008.

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