Winnebago-Boone courts could add depth to camera project

May 1, 2012

The Illinois Supreme Court's decision to add these two northern Illinois counties to its cameras in courts program is being viewed as a stepping stone for the effort. 

Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride announced over the weekend that the 17th judicial circuit will soon allow cameras and microphones during certain trials.  It's part of an experimental program that was unveiled earlier this year.  So far, four other circuit courts in Illinois have had their applications approved. 

Chief Judge Joseph McGraw heads the 17th circuit, which includes the Rockford metro area.  He says the next step is to have representatives of the Illinois Supreme Court meet with local court personnel and the news media to discuss policies related to the program.  After that, a working group would be formed to sort out logistical matters and how news media requests would be handled within the circuit.

McGraw says there’s no way to predict just how many requests the court might deal with initially.  But he says a high level of interest can be expected.  And McGraw says that, with the 17th circuit having one of the largest population bases accepted into the program, it should serve as a good measuring stick for the Illinois Supreme Court to evaluate the success of the initiative:

"We have all the media network affiliates, as well as local daily's, and numerous other print and radio coverage.  I think we'll be able to provide a good representative sample," McGraw said.

Before it decides whether to expand into Cook County, the high court says it wants to see how things play out in smaller judicial circuits. 

Jennifer Fuller, president of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association, says she agrees with the chief justice’s assessment that the program appears to have gotten off to a good start.  Fuller also agrees that expanding into areas like Rockford will give the project more depth.

"I think it's important that markets of all different size are part of the trial," she said, "because we all have different perspectives."

Fuller adds that, if Cook County eventually is included, it would mean the effort has taken a big step in the right direction.

While there seems to be a lot of optimism about the direction of Illinois’ experiment with cameras in courts, not everyone is ready to dive in.  The 13th judicial circuit, which includes LaSalle County, announced last month it would hold off on submitting an application. 

Fuller says the INBA has been holding seminars to educate its members about the rules of the program.  She also stresses that the media has been covering trials for a long time and is well aware of the decorum of a courtroom.  Fuller says now there’s just an added learning curve for news reporters here in Illinois. 

Public input also is being requested. The 16th Judicial Circuit -- which covers DeKalb, Kane and Kendall counties -- is holding a meeting this afternoon, according to the Daily Chronicle.