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Article updated: 11/20/2012 5:09 PM

Cameras to make historic debut inside DuPage courts

By Josh Stockinger

A historic day is on tap Wednesday as cameras roll inside a Chicago-area trial court for the first time.

Newspaper and TV journalists have been granted extended access to the arraignment of high-profile murder suspect Elzbieta Plackowska, who is accused of slaying two children in Naperville.

Plackowska's appearance before DuPage County Judge Robert Kleeman will be captured by both still and video cameras. Kleeman on Tuesday OK'd two cameras and two camera operators to be positioned adjacent to a jury box in the front of the courtroom. He denied a request for two additional cameras closer to the bench, saying they "have the potential to be something of a distraction."

The proceedings will be the first in the metropolitan area to be televised since the Illinois Supreme Court in January agreed to open trial courts to cameras on an experimental basis. Until then, Illinois was one of only 14 states barring courtroom photography.

"So far, it's going very smoothly, and I anticipate everything tomorrow is going to go very smoothly," DuPage County Chief Judge John Elsner said Tuesday after Kleeman's ruling.

The court system has been working with Chicago-area news media for weeks in preparation of Plackowska's arraignment. The defendant's attorney, Senior Assistant Public Defender Michael Mara, and State's Attorney Bob Berlin did not object.

Mara said Plackowska will appear before the judge wearing jail garb rather than street clothes because he doesn't believe her appearance would be a factor against her, as some legal experts suggest. With the exception of cameras, he said, the proceedings should unfold in typical fashion.

"I'm going to do everything I would do otherwise," he said. "Nothing really changes."

The 9 a.m. hearing is expected to last only a few minutes, as Kleeman explains the charges and possible penalties to Plackowska, who will enter a plea. Most defendants plead not guilty at arraignment, after which the attorneys exchange discovery materials, such as police reports.

The action will be photographed by WGN and The Associated Press, according to Tony Capriolo, the 18th Judicial Circuit's media coordinator and managing editor at Local News Service in Chicago. The images will then be distributed to interested local media, who also can pick up a live feed.

Berlin said he and his team, which includes Assistant State's Attorneys Mike Pawl and Nicole Wilkes-English, have no reservations about the cameras.

"We've got a job to do," he said. "It's not going to change anything."

Modeled after Iowa's policy on court cameras, the pilot program in Illinois leaves discretion to judges presiding over the cases in question.

It also sets limitations to keep cameras out of juvenile court proceedings and family court, as well as evidence suppression hearings and trade-secret cases. No photography is allowed of sexual abuse victims without their consent, and jurors cannot be photographed.

DuPage Court Administrator John Lapinski said Kleeman's ruling means the media will be allowed to photograph Plackowska's arraignment only. Any requests to cover future court events would go back to the judge for consideration.

"Each individual judge will have to look at each request," Lapinski said.

Plackowska, 40, of Naperville, spoke quietly to her attorney through a Polish interpreter during Tuesday's hearing but did not publicly weigh in on the televised proceedings.

In the suburbs, only DuPage and Cook counties have made formal applications for court cameras. Kane County court officials have said they plan to apply, and Lake and McHenry counties are exploring it.

The first circuits approved in Illinois included Winnebago, Rock Island, Carroll, Jo Daviess and other western counties, partly because of their proximity to Iowa's Quad Cities, where court cameras have been used since 1979. Downstate Madison County, approved in March, was selected in part because it's close to St. Louis, where court cameras have been allowed for years.

Last month, the murder trial of Nicholas Sheley in Morrison, Ill., became one of the first high-profile cases to receive photographic treatment. Sheley, who is charged with a two-state killing spree, was ultimately convicted of beating an elderly man to death in downstate Kankakee.

Plackowska is charged with the Oct. 20 stabbing deaths of her 7-year-old son Justin and Olivia Dworakowski, a 5-year-old girl she was baby-sitting. Each child was stabbed dozens of times.

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