In a DuPage County courtroom this week, the grand experiment gets its most rigorous test.
For the first time, the media will be allowed gavel-to-gavel camera coverage of a trial, in this case a triple murder. Three members of a Darien family were slain by an intruder who already has pleaded guilty but mentally ill. Jury selection starts Tuesday for the other person accused of the crime -- an ex-boyfriend of a family member of the victims accused of masterminding the killings. TV and still cameras have recorded pretrial hearings in other high-profile cases, but they've been of little substance. In more than one instance, DuPage judges -- who still have final say on a case-by-case basis -- have said no on the grounds that the proceedings were of little substance.
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And while coverage of the trial of Johnny Borizov for the murders Jeff and Lori Kramer and their son Mike has been OK'd, approval doesn't come without a boatload of stipulations. Trial Judge Daniel Guerin this past week sat in the back of the courtroom to see firsthand just how much of a distraction the one still and one video camera he's allowing might be. Some of the rules he imposed to ensure the cameras are as unobtrusive as possible include:
• No lights on video cameras or flash photography. All equipment must be free of stickers, emblems and such. In fact, station logos should be removed or covered up. Guerin asked that photographers wear dark clothing. (And, as has been the case in every instance so far, only one "pool" still and video photographer is allowed per camera; the material is shared among all media outlets.)
• Camera tripods must be covered by a black cloth. TV cameras must be "locked" on those tripods so they cannot swing too far and inadvertently photograph the jury, which is strictly forbidden. No shooting of certain witnesses; in fact, both prosecution and defense attorneys are asking that several other participants in the trial not be photographed. A ruling is pending. No zooming in and photographing of documents; no capturing of conversations between attorney and client, among prosecutors, sidebars between attorneys and the judge.
"The People's Court" this is not.
If these rules seem a bit draconian, consider this: DuPage County is breaking all sorts of new ground. Although the recording in court was authorized on a trial basis by the Illinois Supreme Court more than a year ago, DuPage is the only suburban circuit to allow anything. Lake County will have its first trial this week -- sentencing of Matthew Padour of Libertyville, convicted of punching a Metra conductor. Meanwhile, Cook and Kane counties have agreed to allow cameras but are still working on the guidelines. McHenry County officials seem disinclined to allow it all.
Consider this, too. Judge Guerin is laissez-faire with the media compared with DuPage Judge George Bakalis, who last week slam-dunked a media request to cover the trial of Edwin Klemm, a 43-year-old teacher and coach at Wheaton North High School accused of having more than a dozen sexual encounters with a female student.
In rejecting the request, Bakalis criticized the media for asking to cover only the "sensational" cases and missing the opportunity to "educate the public on what goes on in the courts and to create transparency in the system," said Tony Capriolo, the media coordinator who serves as the liaison between the media and the DuPage judiciary and the man trying to make this uneasy alliance work.
Bakalis further opined that sound bites can be offered up without proper context and the image of defendants in prison jumpsuit can hinder empaneling future juries, Capriolo said. In short, if anyone wants to cover a trial in Bakalis' courtroom, be prepared to do it the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper.