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Six counties could join program

Published: Monday, July 28, 2014 11:53 a.m. CST

CHICAGO (AP) – Half a dozen counties in a central Illinois judicial district could soon join a 2-year-old pilot program that allows cameras in select state courtrooms.

A request to participate should be submitted to the Illinois Supreme Court by the fall, with the high court likely to give its approval, Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt told Springfield’s State Journal-Register.

The then-chief justice of the state’s high court, Thomas Kilbride, launched the cameras-in-court initiative in 2012 – with the aim of possibly one day ending in-court camera bans for good.

The counties in the 7th Judicial Circuit that Schmidt hopes will be included in the program are Sangamon, Greene, Jersey, Macoupin, Morgan and Scott. Around 40 of Illinois’ 102 counties are already taking part, including Lee, Ogle and Whiteside.

Chief Circuit Judge Leslie Graves asked Schmidt to make the preparations to join the program. That will include meetings with other judges, journalists and lawyers, Schmidt said.

“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Everyone’s concerns will be addressed.”

Some jurists express concern that the presence of cameras can be disruptive, potentially undermining a defendant’s right to a fair trial. But rules laid out by the state’s highest court are supposed to ensure that doesn’t happen. Cameras, for instance, are barred from certain trials, including juvenile and child-custody cases.

Cameras already have been present in several murder trials elsewhere around the state, including the quadruple homicide trial of Nick Sheley in Rock Island County and the Matthew Welling trial in Lee County. Both men were convicted.

The state has allowed cameras to be present during Supreme Court and appellate court hearings since 1983. But at the time, the ban at state-court trials was kept in place.

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