Local courtroom cameras process to move forward

WOODSTOCK – McHenry County court officials say they want to move forward with cameras in the courtroom, although there’s no timetable for when cameras will make their first appearance.

“We are looking to move forward with extended media coverage in the 22nd Circuit,” Court Administrator Dan Wallis said. “In the very near future, we will be reaching out to ... media outlets that would potentially cover courtrooms here to sit down to discuss how exactly that will work.”

Illinois has allowed news cameras in the Supreme Court and appellate courts since 1983, but was one of 14 states where cameras in trial courtrooms were not allowed or were restricted so much that they were hardly used.

In January, the Illinois Supreme Court announced a pilot program and selected the 14th Circuit as the testing ground. The 14th Circuit includes Whiteside, Rock Island, Henry and Mercer counties.

The pilot project currently includes 13 counties in five circuits, Illinois Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor said.

“To the extent that the media is utilizing and requesting cameras in the courtrooms, they are working well,” he said.

Wallis said cameras are a major culture shift in the judiciary.

“That’s one of the reasons we’ve taken some time to talk to other circuits that have been involved in this,” he said.

Wallis said his biggest concern in McHenry County is the courtroom design and layout.

“If the defendant isn’t on the stand, what you’re going to get is the back of their head,” Wallis said. “There are some logistical issues.”

But cameras a big step toward transparency. Many people don’t understand how or why the courts work the way that they do, he said.

“Public trust and confidence in the judiciary,” Wallis said. “That’s been my mantra since I walked in the doors here.”

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