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Our View: County on wrong side of cameras in the courtroom

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride will yield control of the Illinois Supreme Court this month to a new chief justice, Rita Garman.

One of Kilbride’s initiatives during the past three years – allowing news cameras and microphones in certain courtrooms on a trial basis – appears to be in good hands. We are thankful for that.

Garman, who will mark her 40th anniversary in the judiciary in January, appears to be fully on board with Kilbride’s initiative. The number of counties participating in the pilot project has now increased to 35.

Missing from that total is McHenry County, which continues to sit and watch while counties surrounding it embrace the pilot program.

“The biggest issue is that it’s a change in philosophy,” McHenry County’s 22nd Circuit Court Administrator Dan Wallis said. “For over 100 years, cameras weren’t allowed in courtrooms and very suddenly there was an announcement from the Chief Justice [Thomas Kilbride] allowing them.”

The pilot program was announced nearly three years ago – January 2012. How much time is needed to embrace change?

Among McHenry County’s concerns, Wallis said, is that cameras would affect the decorum of a courtroom; safety of judges, attorneys and witnesses; legal questions that need to be answered; and a possible “chilling effect” a camera’s lens would have on witnesses.

There is no timetable as to when the 22nd Circuit will become more transparent and allow the public new access into public courtrooms.

McHenry County is one of 67 counties to still not allow access to news cameras and microphones. Frankly, we had hoped that cameras in the courtroom would become a permanent fixture statewide before Kilbride left his three-year term as chief justice.

However, Garman’s commitment to cameras in the courtroom appears sincere, and Kilbride still has seven years remaining in his term to further promote his initiative, so the chances that it will stall are minimal.

We believe that images and video from McHenry County courtrooms will show the public a criminal justice system that operates in a professional manner as defendants are tried for serious crimes. The result would be greater public confidence in the courts, along with greater protection for the rights of defendants.

We salute outgoing Chief Justice Kilbride for his groundbreaking initiative, and we encourage incoming Chief Justice Garman to carry it through to a successful conclusion, which includes cameras in McHenry County courtrooms.

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