Until recently, Illinois was one of only 14 states without regular photography in any of its judicial circuits at the trial court level. Although it allowed cameras in its Supreme Court and appellate courts since 1983. Nearby states Iowa, since 1979 and Wisconsin, since 1978, have had policies for cameras in the trial courtrooms.
The state’s Supreme Court earlier this year authorized cameras and other electronic recording devices for courtrooms on an experimental, circuit-by-circuit basis. The state’s Supreme Court has provided numerous guidelines ( "How it will work" ) that the media must follow and that retain control of the process by judges. Witnesses are also provided with discretion not to be the subjects of courtroom cameras.
The Daily Herald reports that "Since January, five circuits serving 13 counties have applied for and received the permission for expanded media coverage. DuPage County likely is next, court officials said, followed by Cook County sometime before the end of the year."
In Cook County, Chief Judge Timothy Evans has been particularly forceful in getting cameras introduced into civil and criminal courtrooms in Cook County. In a Chicago Tribune story, Justice Evans hints that he might even re-assign judges who resist this the process. "...[He] referred to his power to reassign judges when he discussed how he doesn't want to see the pilot project thwarted “because of the recalcitrance of one judge.”
While there are proponents for the introduction of cameras among the public, the media, the legislature and some judges, there are important issues that need careful consideration if the process is to be implemented fairly and without too many unintended consequences.
In a forthcoming law review article, "The Conundrum of Cameras in the Courtroom", by Nancy S. Marder, Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, while directed at the issue of cameras in the federal courts, provides some cautions that would apply to state courts as well.
She says that "Judges need to recognize that neither television nor Internet images are neutral or objective." "...The traditional view of cameras is as the all-seeing eye: They are turned on and they simply record what is before them. What is missing from this account is that the placement of the camera, the focus on a particular subject to the exclusion of all others, the editing of the images, and the voice-over that accompanies the images, give shape to the story. Because images are powerful and the story is woven seamlessly, it is easy to lose sight of what has been omitted and what choices have been made in the process."
Also, since pre-trial hearings may also be broadcast and recorded, the effect of sometimes prejudicial pre-trial publicity, will need to be considered, to preserve the fairness of a trial.
Professor Marder's article speaks to the broader responsibility required from those who produce the media and even those who consume their product, to be critical users of the information these images from the courtroom, purport to convey. She speaks of a developing "social etiquette" that will hopefully develop to address these broader factors that will affect the impact of courtroom cameras on all participants.
Speaking of federal trial courts she says that, "Until there is a camera etiquette, courts should continue to proceed slowly because everyone is a potential cameraman and a potential subject on the Web. Courts are no longer dealing with just three major television networks that would abide by certain rules...." State courts are operating in the same changing technological and social environment.
While many proponents share Judge Evans's enthusiasm for making the workings of the courts more visible, accessible and accountable, a rushed introduction without sufficient attention to the interests of all potentially affected parties, may actually hinder the wide acceptance of cameras in Illinois trial courtrooms. As Professor Marder argues, social standards and expectations may need to evolve further, before the basis for long term viability and acceptance are in place.
Even given the cautions mentioned above, here is a news story and video depicting why it may be important for judicial accountability, to have a visual record of judges behavior in court that can't be denied.