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posted: 2/18/2012 8:00 AM

Kane to approach courtroom cameras 'cautiously'

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  • Kane County Chief Judge Robert Spence

    Kane County Chief Judge Robert Spence


The Illinois Supreme Court ruled last month that cameras should be allowed in courtrooms on an "experimental, circuit by circuit basis."

But don't expect bright lights and microphones in Kane County and the 16th Judicial Circuit just yet.

So far, the trial program is only in place in the 14th Judicial Circuit at the Rock Island Courthouse. The Quad Cities are on Illinois' border with Iowa, were cameras have been allowed for more than 30 years.

The Illinois Supreme Court also left implementation up to the chief judge of the each circuit. Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans wants in on the experimental program as well, but other chief judges are undecided so far.

Robert Spence, chief judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit, which includes Kane, DeKalb and Kendall counties, said this week he has not formed an opinion on whether to allow cameras into courtrooms.

Spence plans to appoint a panel in coming months to study the issue. The composition of the panel is undetermined right now, but it will make a recommendation and Spence will have the final say.

"This is something we'd like to approach cautiously," Spence said. "I think all of us will be looking forward to how the pilot program works in Rock Island. I do appreciate all the insight that went into this. It's very well thought out and detailed."

Kane County State's Attorney Joe McMahon also weighed in on the issue during his monthly meeting with the media.

"I think there's good and bad there," McMahon said. "It's obvious to me that the (Illinois) Supreme Court thought of this for a long time. They took a lot of perspectives into consideration."

McMahon said opening the courtroom to cameras could help the public see how cases proceed and it could provide a window into the hard work of not only prosecutors, but defense attorneys and law enforcement.

On the flip side, McMahon said he is concerned about the "chilling effect" cameras could have on victims going to authorities to report crimes.

He said when a case is over, witnesses eventually have to return home and could face scrutiny and retribution.

Under the current policy, camera images and photographs cannot be taken of sexual assault victims (unless the person consents), jury members, potential jurors and law enforcement informants.

Finally, McMahon said cameras could open up the door to grandstanding by some. Still, if a camera was placed in an unobtrusive area, it could work, McMahon believes.

"It think it can be done. You really have to figure out the logistics," he said.

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