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posted: 1/26/2012 12:01 AM

Cameras fitting for modern courtroom

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The dispute is clear-cut and easy to understand, the opposing parties outraged, the lawyers showmen and the judge alternately stern and chatty. After a half-hour of dramatized proceedings, a verdict is pronounced.

That's TV.

Real-life trials are different, and now Illinois residents who haven't set foot in a courtroom since high school civics class have a chance to find out what it's really like.

For the first time in state history, the Illinois Supreme Court is allowing cameras in trial courts on an experimental basis. Cook County is ready to sign up, and chief judges in suburban counties are considering participating in the optional trial period.

We urge them to do so.

As most other states already have acknowledged, society long ago reached the point where the benefits of broadcasting court proceedings outweigh the potential problems.

A more open government need not clash with the imperative of ensuring justice, especially in an era when the prospect of being caught on camera is an everyday experience that few would find startling.

Surely, when many arrests are now video recorded, and when many police interrogations are video recorded, it's reasonable to allow trials to be broadcast.

In our own state, cameras already are allowed in appellate courts and the Supreme Court. The pluses are plentiful, and not just for news media.

At a time when the Chicago area is shaken by news of wrongful convictions, cameras in the courtroom could make public not only the few instances of hasty or prejudiced judgments, but also the everyday diligence of judges, lawyers and juries striving to find the truth.

The challenge, of course, is to make sure cameras don't get in the way of a fair trial.

Rules set forth by the Illinois Supreme Court to address that seem abundantly cautious, governing the number and placement of cameras in courtrooms as well as setting forth certain things that won't be broadcast, including children, divorce, child adoption or custody cases, sexual abuse victims or jurors.

Individual judges can ban cameras from their courtrooms, though we hope they won't do so indiscriminately.

Many court hearings now are almost intimate experiences, with an audience of a few lawyers, a news reporter and maybe a court watcher -- volunteers dedicated to transparency and fairness.

That won't entirely change, since there are far more courtrooms in the Chicago area than news cameras available to cover them.

Yet, many more Illinois citizens now will have a chance to see their courts in action. It's not "Judge Judy," but we think it'll be worth watching.

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