The Illinois Supreme Court is moving forward with a policy to start allowing news cameras and other media recording devices in the state’s trial courts.
The state’s seven Supreme Court justices voted unanimously to approve a pilot program that serves as a circuit-by-circuit experiment for how the state might permanently allow expanded media coverage in its lower courts.
“This is another step to bring more transparency and more accountability to the Illinois court system,” said Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride in a statement issued Tuesday.
News recording equipment has been allowed in the Illinois Supreme Court and the state's Appellate Courts since 1983. In the same ruling, the court opted to continue its ban on cameras in trail courts. Up until Tuesday, Illinois was one of 14 states that didn't allow or severely restricted news electronic devices in its state trial county courts.
According to the statement, the state’s 23 county chief judges must opt-in to the program by petitioning for approval from the state Supreme Court. A spokesman for Illinois Supreme Court said the court may only approve a handful of petitions to determine whether media access and fair trials can co-exist.
Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans said he’s enthusiastic about the plan and plans to submit a petition soon.
“I believe in a democracy like ours, it’s best for the public to be well informed,” said Evans. “I want them to see the real court in action, and I believe we can do that in a professional way.”
In separate written statements, Lake County Chief Judge Victoria Rossetti and DuPage County Chief Judge John Elsner said they were reviewing the policy to determine if it was appropriate for their respective courts.
“If the decision reached is that Lake County apply, an application to the Supreme Court for approval to provide extended media coverage of judicial proceedings, on an experimental basis, shall be forwarded to the attention of the Clerk of the Supreme Court,” said Rossetti.
“I will be conferring with the other 14 circuit judges before making a decision in regards to this matter. No decision will be made until all of the circuit judges have been consulted,” said Elsner.
The new policy prohibits media coverage in any juvenile, divorce and trade secret cases, among other court proceedings. Extended media coverage of jury selection, the jury and individual jurors is also prohibited. The policy also allows judges to deny, limit or terminate media coverage without the possibility of appeal.
Witnesses may object to a request for media coverage, which would be granted at the judge’s discretion.
The ruling does not affect federal courts.