Opening up courts to public
The plan to get cameras in Illinois courtrooms is off to a slow start — but at least it's a start.
Less than five months after Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride announced that cameras would be allowed into the state's trial courts, the process is slowly getting under way.
So far, on an experimental basis, cameras are permitted in 13 of Illinois' 102 counties. They comprise five of Illinois' 21 (20 plus Cook County) judicial circuits.
But the Sixth Judicial Circuit, which is comprised of Champaign, Douglas, Moultrie, Piatt, Macon and DeWitt counties, has not been in the vanguard. Nor has the Fifth Circuit, which includes Vermilion, Edgar, Clark, Coles and Cumberland counties.
It is not clear when they will join the new and growing club. But it is pretty clear that members of the local judiciary are not particularly enamored of the idea. Call it fear of the unknown.
Champaign County Presiding Judge Thomas Difanis has indicated that he's taking a wait-and-see approach, hoping to learn from the examples set by other counties.
Speaking for himself, Champaign County Circuit Judge Michael Jones said he was "originally skeptical" of the notion of cameras in courtrooms but is no longer opposed.
"It seems to work pretty well in other places and it's probably an idea whose time has come," he said.
Although the plan to allow cameras in trial courts was unanimously approved by the Supreme Court, trial judges are not at the mercy of this new idea. They will retain discretion on the degree of camera access to legal proceedings. Rules also prohibit allowing pictures of jurors or child victims.
In our view, the judiciary has little to fear from this change. It's long been our opinion that the more ordinary citizens know about how the judicial process works, the more confidence they will have in this important branch of state government.
Far from the farcical melodramas broadcast on television and in the movies, real-life trials are, in the vast majority of cases, a model of decorum, professionalism and fairness. Judges in the Fifth and Sixth judicial circuits should embrace this plan and move to join the five judicial circuits that have opted to open their courtrooms to cameras.