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Illinois to allow courtroom cameras on ‘experimental basis’

Updated: February 25, 2012 8:22AM

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court will open up trial courts to cameras, handing news broadcasters a major victory in a 29-year battle to bring high-profile trials to the masses.

“The Supreme Court plans an announcement [Tuesday] dealing with cameras in the courtroom on an experimental basis,” said Joseph Tybor, a spokesman for the state’s high court.

The matter has been a high priority for Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, who has pushed the issue during his stint heading the seven-member court.

It was not immediately clear of the impact on Cook County’s court system, and Tybor would confirm no other elements of the announcement.

However, a source familiar with the matter indicated the court’s edict would set up a process by which the state’s 23 circuits could petition the Supreme Court to allow cameras to record proceedings.

Arguments before the state’s appellate courts and the Supreme Court have been allowed since 1983, but television and radio broadcasters have been stymied at the trial court level since then.

One top journalism expert characterized the move by the Illinois high court as a victory for the public, whose only real glimpse into what transpires in courtrooms is through popular television programs.

“Putting cameras in the courtroom and allowing the public to know firsthand what’s going on allows them to see how the court system works and to understand in real life what the judicial system does, rather than depending on ‘Law and Order,’ ‘Perry Mason,’ or ‘L.A. Law,’ ” said Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism center.

The news media currently is not allowed to use cameras and tape recorders in federal courts, which meant that Illinoisans could not see or hear the historic proceedings that resulted in federal felony convictions against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

In December, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) joined Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in introducing legislation to require televising U.S. Supreme Court proceedings.

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