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posted: 11/20/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Cameras in court working despite fears

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  • Bev Horne/bhorne@dailyherald.com Adam Belmont, 23, of Northlake, leaves the courtroom at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton. Belmont was arraigned on first-degree murder and sex assault charges in 2012 death of his ex-girlfriend, Alyssa Van Meter. It is the third time members of the news media were allowed to photograph and video record an arraignment in DuPage since the Illinois Supreme Court launched a pilot program offering extended courtroom access.

      Bev Horne/bhorne@dailyherald.com Adam Belmont, 23, of Northlake, leaves the courtroom at the DuPage County Courthouse in Wheaton. Belmont was arraigned on first-degree murder and sex assault charges in 2012 death of his ex-girlfriend, Alyssa Van Meter. It is the third time members of the news media were allowed to photograph and video record an arraignment in DuPage since the Illinois Supreme Court launched a pilot program offering extended courtroom access.

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

When evaluating an experiment, it's good practice to actually participate in what is being tested. First hand knowledge is key.

So we are a little puzzled by the complaints of a couple of DuPage County judges on the use of cameras in the courtroom when they have denied all requests to allow them.

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DuPage is one of 35 Illinois counties (out of 102) that are part of the Illinois Supreme Court's test program allowing cameras if the trial judge OKs it. It's a compromise between a blanket OK in all cases and a blanket ban in all cases.

It should come as no surprise that the Daily Herald backs this program and would expect one day to have cameras allowed in all courtrooms in the state. Certainly, we'd like to see all the counties in the suburban area participating in the test program. Currently, DuPage, Kane and Lake counties are participating.

McHenry County is not, a mistake in our view. And Cook County, the largest judicial system in the state, has been delayed because of logistics problems. We urge Chief Judge Timothy Evans to make this a priority.

But back to DuPage. While DuPage Chief Judge John Elsner told Legal Affairs Writer Josh Stockinger in an article published Monday that the county's experience has been nothing but positive, fellow judges Kathryn Creswell and George Bakalis say there are too many negatives for them to participate.

"It does nothing to advance transparency in the courtroom proceeding, and it may in fact jeopardize the defendant's right to a fair trial in the future," Creswell said.

Yet, by all accounts, the area's first televised trial -- that of a defendant in a triple murder trial in DuPage -- went off without a hitch. And to Bakalis' complaint that the news media are interested only in sensationalized cases, other Illinois counties have covered civil court cases and a drug court graduation.

"The stereotype is, the media is only interested in high-profile cases," said Illinois Supreme Court spokesman Joe Tybor. "But I don't think that means the media is not interested in using cameras in the courtroom to educate. To me, it would be important for judges who are not inclined toward allowing cameras to experience them."

That's a reasonable expectation. The power rests with the judges, who can set the rules for their courtroom. When the test program started last year, Illinois was one of only 14 states that barred cameras in local courtrooms (it has allowed for many years cameras in the appellate and supreme courts.)

We believe that used in a nondisruptive way cameras do provide an education about how our judicial system works -- whether a high-profile case or not -- and clearly by their very nature help to ensure transparency.

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