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Illinois Supreme Court Makes Camera Program Permanent

the Illinois Supreme Court bench in the court's main building in Springfield
Brian Mackey
NPR Illinois

The Illinois Supreme Court on Monday made television and radio coverage of court cases a permanent part of Illinois' legal landscape.

Cameras were first allowed as an experiment four years ago.

Over the last four years, the Illinois Supreme Court has gradually allowed cameras into 15 of the state's 24 jurisdictions, including the largest, Cook County.

Chief Justice Rita Garman says permanently allowing broadcast media coverage makes the legal system more transparent.

“People do tend to get their information and their view of the courts by watching television," she says. "So this is an opportunity to see how the courts actually work, and to break down any mystery that’s out there."

Garman says she expects the cameras will eventually be allowed in every jurisdiction statewide.

In Cook County, there's been video or audio coverage of a dozen cases. "Every judge who has received an EMC request has approved either part or all of the request," Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans said in a prepared statement. He called the trial an "overwhelming success," and says he'll research allowing cameras into nearly all of the county's courthouses.

Even in areas that allow TV coverage, individual judges can prohibit cameras on a case-by-case basis. There are also certain types of proceedings that are off-limits, such as cases involving juveniles.

The 17th Judicial Circuit, based in Rockford, was among the early adopters. That’s where Chief Judge Joe McGraw handles criminal cases and has had first-hand experience with TV coverage.

"I think knowing the camera is there, you sit up straighter, you speak more clearly. You do a better job explaining why you’re doing what you’re doing," McGraw says. "You should be doing that anyway, but I think just having that camera present there … makes all of us do just a little better job."

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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