Let the sun shine in on our court system.
Illinois residents should applaud a recent Illinois Supreme Court decision to allow cameras and recording devices in trial courts.
This experiment will proceed in a slow, highly restricted fashion as judges from Illinois' 23 judicial circuits apply for approval to participate. While realizing the deep suspicion many jurists have, we urge all trial judges to embrace this exercise.
Locally, it's our hope that the circuit judges in the 5th and 6th judicial circuits, which cover East Central Illinois, will move with particular dispatch.
It's long been our contention that public respect for the courts would increase substantially if citizens could see the proceedings for themselves.
Most people don't have the time to visit a local courtroom to take in a trial, but they would find legal proceedings, whether civil or criminal, conducted in a respectful, restrained manner in which all important issues are heard and addressed. In other words, the farcical proceedings portrayed in movies and on television could not be further from the truth.
Illinois is way late to this party. It's one of just 14 states where recording devices are prohibited or so tightly restricted they are not used.
It should be no great problem to allow radio reporters to plug into courtroom sound systems. It could be a different issue altogether to allow TV or newspaper cameras because of the potential that their physical presence could distract from the proceedings. But many other states have overcome these issues, and Illinois courts can do the same.
The high court's proposal is hardly all-encompassing. Recording devices will not be allowed in a variety of proceedings, including divorce, juvenile, adoption or child custody proceedings. Further, trial judges possess authority to veto any news media requests.
Some judges may misuse that authority to block the presence of electronic devices in all cases. It's our hope that is not the case, and that trial judges will work cooperatively to implement the Supreme Court's directive.
Trial courts in Illinois have a great story to tell — if they will let the public see and hear it.