DuPage County Judge Daniel Guerin spent some time on the witness stand Thursday as final preparations were made for historic news coverage of a triple-murder trial starting next week.
Guerin, who met with media members over the lunch hour, wanted to see for himself whether a TV camera in the far back corner of the courtroom gallery would be a distraction to those testifying.
After three light bulbs were removed to darken the corner, the judge said he couldn't make out the camera or its operator while seated in the witness box.
"As far as being as unobtrusive as possible, I don't know what more can be done," he said.
Guerin is allowing one still camera and one video camera to document the high-profile trial of Johnny Borizov, who is accused of masterminding the March 2010 murders of three members of a Darien family. The case marks the first time there will be news photography at a trial in the Chicago area.
Guerin agreed to the coverage under an Illinois Supreme Court program that was launched last year and is modeled after similar programs already in effect in dozens of other states.
The rules bar camera operators from photographing jurors, and Guerin personally inspected camera settings Thursday to be sure the jury box would be out of view. He also requested a dark cloth or sheet be placed around a TV camera tripod to further conceal the equipment.
The judge said he had no problem with a still camera encased in material to muffle the clicking sound. The camera must remain next to the TV camera in a roughly 5-foot-wide area.
"Standing right next to it, I couldn't hear it," Guerin said.
Guerin has barred video and photos of testimony from victims Jeffrey and Lori Kramer's surviving daughter Angela and a jailhouse informant, among other witnesses. He said he would rule at jury selection Tuesday on roughly a dozen additional witnesses objecting to the presence of cameras.
Both the prosecution and defense have repeatedly objected to the coverage, arguing it could be a distraction and compromise the fairness of the trial.
"A lot of witnesses have objected for very good reasons, from police officers to lay persons," defense attorney Paul DeLuca said. "I just hope that if the cameras are placed far enough back and are quiet enough, everybody forgets about them."
State's Attorney Bob Berlin said his primary concern is that both sides get a fair trial.
"What happens in court is serious business and not entertainment," he said. "I am in full support of transparency in the courtrooms; we just have to be sure that by allowing cameras in the courtroom we are not jeopardizing the integrity of the judicial process."
In addition to witness restrictions, the media can't photograph evidence exhibits that haven't been formally presented to the jury. The court also is taking steps to make sure the video camera doesn't pick up the sound of attorneys talking privately or conferring with the judge during a sidebar.
Tony Capriolo, media coordinator for the 18th Judicial Circuit in DuPage, said the coverage will probably focus on Borizov, attorney arguments, the judge and admitted gunman Jacob Nodarse, who is the state's star witness and is expected to be on the stand for a couple days.
The trial itself is expected to last about a month. Participating media outlets will have the ability to stream the proceedings live on their websites.
Cameras have been inching their way into DuPage courtrooms for pretrial hearings and arraignments since November. On Thursday, Chief Judge John Elsner called the upcoming trial coverage another "step forward in opening up the judiciary."
"We're looking forward to it," he said.