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Welcome step toward cameras

Six counties seek to join courtroom pilot experiment

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

It was welcome news to learn that Sangamon County is moving forward with an effort to allow cameras and microphones in trial courtrooms.

Judges in the 7th Judicial Circuit, which includes Sangamon, Morgan, Macoupin, Greene, Scott and Jersey counties, voted to seek approval to be part of the Illinois Supreme Court’s cameras in the courtroom pilot project next year.

The move serves taxpayers well and will bring more transparency to another important government function.

In an age when people’s days are packed with professional obligations and personal commitments, and in a time when modern technological advancements have placed information at people’s fingertips, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to watch what goes on in a courtroom from their smartphones, tablets and laptop computers without having to sit in the courtroom in person.

The idea may be off-putting to some traditionalists, but in the same way technology has changed the delivery of everything from news and entertainment to government services, the courts are not immune from having to keep up.

The Illinois Supreme Court approved the cameras-in-the-courtroom pilot project nearly 2 years ago. At the time, Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride called it another step to bring transparency and accountability to Illinois courtrooms. ...

Currently, 35 Illinois counties in 13 circuits, from one end of the state to the other, are approved to participate in the program. The Illinois Supreme Court has allowed cameras to broadcast its oral arguments and those of the Illinois Appellate Court since 1983, but rejected allowing news cameras during trial proceedings until 2012.

It all adds up to progress and good news for taxpayers, and more circuits should get on board with the program. Some continue to hold out, citing concerns about safety, decorum, and the potential for a chilling effect on testifying witnesses. ...

We commend Chief Judge Leslie Graves and the 7th Circuit judges for moving forward with this important step in opening up the local judicial process to more sunlight and for taking the opportunity to help more Illinoisans understand how their courts work.

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