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Illinois Supreme Court approves cameras in trial courts

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Cameras and recording devices will be allowed in some Illinois trials after the state’s high court earlier this week authorized…

Cameras and recording devices will be allowed in some Illinois trials after the state’s high court earlier this week authorized extended media coverage on an experimental basis.

“Broadcasting, televising, recording and photographing” will be permitted in trial court sessions, according to the state Supreme Court’s Policy for Extended Media Coverage in the Circuit Courts of Illinois. The policy, effective immediately, was adopted Tuesday.

Procedurally, the chief judge of each circuit must apply to the Illinois Supreme Court for approval of the use of cameras in the courts of that particular circuit. There are 23 geographically arranged circuits in Illinois, according to the state courts’ web site.

Even in those circuits where the high court has approved the use of cameras, discretion still lies with the trial judge, who must grant permission for coverage.

Under the policy, parties and witnesses to trial proceedings may object to their recording, though the ultimate decision rests with the trial judge. Moreover, audio and video coverage is prohibited in the following proceedings: when a minor victim is testifying about sexual abuse unless the victim consents; those required under state law to be private, including juvenile, dissolution, adoption, child custody, evidence suppression or trade secret cases; and jury selection, including coverage of the jury and individual jurors ultimately empanelled to hear a case.

By Thursday afternoon, several news organizations across the state reported that local judges were mulling over the court's invitation into the experimental program.

The Ogle County News reported that the chief judge of the 15th Judicial Circuit emailed the 16 judges who serve the circuit's five counties to get their input. The Lake County News-Sun reported that the 19th Judicial Circuit will discuss the issue at its next bimonthly circuit judge meeting and that the chief judge was sending a copy of the order to all the circuit judges for their consideration.

The U.S. Supreme Court held in 1981 in Chandler v. Florida that states may adopt rules permitting cameras and recording equipment in their courts. Since then, all 50 states have done so, but the rules vary widely. In some states, visual and audio coverage is permitted in all types of court proceedings that are public, and in others, such coverage is permitted only in appellate courts, including Illinois prior to the state Supreme Court’s adoption of the policy.

Although recordings of oral arguments before the state Supreme and appellate courts have been allowed since shortly after the Chandler decision, the Illinois Supreme Court never approved audio or video coverage of trial courts.