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Illinois Supreme Court approves cameras for courts in McLean County

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[December 13, 2012]  CHICAGO -- Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride of the Illinois Supreme Court and Chief Judge Elizabeth A. Robb of the 11th Judicial Circuit announced Tuesday that news cameras and microphones will be allowed in trial courtrooms in McLean County under a pilot program approved by the Supreme Court earlier this year.

McLean becomes the 24th county to participate in the pilot project allowing cameras in trial courtrooms.

"I am pleased that Chief Judge Robb has applied and my colleagues on the Supreme Court have approved the 11th Circuit to take part in the project," said Kilbride. "The chief judge has told me that lawyers, judges and media have all met in preparation to implement the project and that those discussions have been very positive.

"Cameras and microphones in the courtroom have now expanded to nearly one-quarter of the counties in Illinois. With the continued increase in participation, the highest priority of the pilot project remains to balance carefully greater openness and access to our courts with dignity for the process and the guaranteed rights of all to a fair trial."

McLean County is the first county in central Illinois to participate in the pilot project.

"It is a step forward that Chief Judge Robb and the judges in the 11th Circuit have embraced the pilot project," said Justice Rita B. Garman, whose 4th Judicial District includes the circuit. "It gives another media market, this one in central Illinois, the opportunity to give citizens a real glimpse of what happens in our courtrooms, rather than some fictionalized account on TV.

"The Supreme Court's policy regarding cameras in the courtroom is designed to carefully balance a defendant's right to a fair trial with the important role of the media to inform the public. I am confident that the preparations made by Judge Robb and her colleagues will ensure that both of these goals are well served."

The order is effective immediately.

The 11th Circuit is comprised of Ford, Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties, but for now Robb asked that the experimental program proceed only in McLean County to provide a model before it is expanded to other courtrooms in the circuit.

After several consultations with area media, Robb also asked that one courtroom in McLean County be designated as the courtroom where audio and video recording would occur under the Supreme Court's pilot project. Still photography would be allowed in all McLean County courtrooms.

Robb has taken careful steps in trying to ensure that the transition to allowing cameras in McLean County will go smoothly.

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"A subcommittee of judges in the 11th Circuit has met on several occasions with media representatives and the local bar to discuss extended media coverage in the circuit courts," she said. "We have had very positive discussions and are looking forward to serving as a pilot in central Illinois and sharing our experiences with the court."

The Supreme Court order approving the project in the 11th Circuit requires that a judge presiding over a proceeding in which cameras or audio are allowed file a report with the chief judge of the circuit, the chief justice and with Garman.

Kilbride announced on Jan. 24 the Supreme Court's approval of an experimental program to allow news media cameras and audio in trial courtrooms upon the request of the chief judge of the circuit.

The Supreme Court has allowed cameras to broadcast its own oral arguments and those of the Illinois Appellate Court since 1983. At that time, however, the court specifically rejected allowing news cameras during trial proceedings, and the issue made little headway until Kilbride asked his fellow justices to take another look.

The 14th Judicial Circuit in northwestern Illinois was the first to be approved for cameras. Chief Judge Jeffrey W. O'Connor of the 14th Circuit already has implemented a policy, and cameras have been allowed in several proceedings there, including the murder trial of Nicholas Sheley in late September.

McLean County in the 11th Judicial Circuit joins DuPage County in the 18th Judicial Circuit; Alexander, Jackson, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski, Saline, Union and Williamson counties in the 1st Judicial Circuit; Boone and Winnebago counties in the 17th Judicial Circuit; Carroll, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle and Stephenson counties in the 15th Judicial Circuit; Madison County in the 3rd Judicial Circuit; Kankakee County in the 21st Judicial Circuit; and Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Whiteside counties in the 14th Judicial Circuit, where extended media coverage was approved earlier by the Supreme Court.

[Text from file received from the Illinois Supreme Court]

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