An experiment in DuPage County could help local judges decide when and how to let cameras in courtrooms.
Cameras in Illinois courtrooms have been an increasing presence since January 2012, when state Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride announced he was initiating a pilot project to see how it would work.
Since then, things have gone, if not swimmingly, certainly well. No big problems have been identified. In fact, it's been no big deal. At last count, nearly 30 counties, including neighboring McLean County, had admitted cameras.
But it's no secret that judges in Illinois' 6th Judicial Circuit (Champaign, Douglas, DeWitt, Moultrie, Macon and Piatt counties) are less than enthused about the idea. That's understandable, to a degree.
Allowing the presence of a videographer or a photographer in court shakes up the status quo. Dan Flannell, the presiding judge of the 6th Circuit, has appointed a committee, headed by Champaign County Presiding Judge Thomas Difanis, to study the issue and report back to him.
It's no secret where The News-Gazette stands on the question. It's our view that cameras in the courtrooms of other states have caused no insurmountable problems, neither in encouraging courtroom histrionics by out-of-control lawyers nor in affecting a defendant's ability to get a fair trial. A positive development is that the public, which funds the legal systems, gets a closer look at how it works, and it's a valuable civics lesson.
But old habits die hard, and some resistance is understandable.
That's why our local judges ought to pay particular attention to what's happening in DuPage County, where a sensational murder trial is under way in a courtroom where cameras are present.
The trial of Johnny Borizov began Tuesday. He is charged with orchestrating the 2010 murder of three members of his ex-girlfriend's family by persuading an acquaintance to carry out the killings. Borizov denies everything, his lawyers arguing that the shooter, Jacob Nordarse, is solely responsible.
Under the rules established by Judge Daniel Guerin, cameras are being permitted to record the proceedings with some exceptions. Jurors will not be photographed. Several witnesses close to the case also will not be photographed. The judge also has barred images of the defendant in handcuffs, contending it could be prejudicial. With a jury already selected, the issue of prejudice would appear irrelevant, but the judge cannot be faulted for acting out of an abundance of caution.
The results will be revealing. This case is the first in the Chicago area to be recorded, but it most certainly won't be the last. The lessons learned up there could be instructive down here.