The Illinois Supreme Court since 2012 has experimented with opening Illinois trial courtrooms to a little extra sunshine, scrutiny and public understanding by allowing cameras in selected judicial circuits. Madison County under former Chief Judge Ann Callis was the second judicial circuit to join the experiment.
Three years later and the state’s highest court has decreed the experiment a success. They have thrown open the courthouse doors and said to bring in the cameras so the public can see how justice works and is dispensed.
The order issued Monday making cameras in courts a permanent part of the Illinois justice system depends on the judicial circuit applying to be part of the system. The media cannot trigger the local courts to participate. Individual judges still have great leeway to exclude cameras from specific trials or specific portions of trials. The state’s appellate and high court are still totally excluded. Witnesses can ask that their testimony be excluded from camera coverage.
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There are 24 judicial circuits in Illinois, and with Madison County leading there are now 15 of them allowing cameras in the courtroom. Guess which circuit isn’t participating and so far has no plans to apply?
St. Clair County and the surrounding 20th Judicial Circuit.
Chief Judge John Baricevic said he asked the St. Louis television stations if they were interested and heard nothing back. No interest, he said.
Funny, the Belleville News-Democrat never got his inquiry.
For the record, this media outlet is extremely interested. So is the public, judging by more than 10,000 video plays on BND.com, just of what could be seen in the courthouse hallways, as Randy McCallum Jr. was found guilty of a double murder.
Imagine how much more compelling it would have been for all of us to have been able to see the defendant in the courtroom at the moment the verdict was rendered.
Secret courts are synonymous with oppression, which is why our justice system is open to all who wish to come. There are very limited exceptions to that openness if you come in person.
So what is the difference between watching a trial in person or allowing it to be captured by a camera for play at your convenience? Cameras in the courts prevent you from taking off work or worrying about your mobility down those long halls or about whether you have time to sit through a four-day trial and then await the verdict. One local prosecutor even envisioned the day when web cams broadcast all proceedings, maybe with a programming guide allowing you to watch key moments.
Until then, we await Baricevic lifting the shroud. His interest in skirting the Illinois Constitution just so voters can have more information about their judges would certainly be furthered by aiming a camera at the bench, plus it might even clue someone in to the next high-functioning judicial addict before he precipitates the overdose death of another judge.