In televised first, Naperville baby-sitter pleads not guilty
With cameras rolling for the first time in a DuPage County courtroom, Naperville babysitter Elzbieta Plackowska formally pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murdering two young children.
Her arraignment lasted less than three minutes but still made history by being the first criminal proceeding in the Chicago metro area to be televised.
“Everything went smoothly,” DuPage County Chief Judge John Elsner said after the hearing.
Plackowska, wearing blue jail fatigues with her hands cuffed in front of her, didn’t speak during the proceedings, but the occasional soft click of a camera shutter could be heard.
Her attorney, Assistant Public Defender Michael Mara, entered the not guilty pleas on her behalf.
Plackowska is charged with fatally stabbing her 7-year-old son, Justin, and 5-year-old Olivia Dworakowski while she was caring for the children on Oct. 30 at Olivia’s home. For the first time, Dworakowski’s mother, Marta, was in the courtroom, but she left after the hearing without commenting.
One TV camera on a tripod and a photographer carrying a still camera were allowed in the Wheaton courtroom to record the hearing under a new Illinois Supreme Court policy designed to make court proceedings more publicly accessible.
DuPage County is the 23rd Illinois county to allow cameras in court — and it’s the first in the Chicago area to begin phasing in that type of media coverage.
Judge Robert Kleeman, who presided over the hearing, formally signed off Tuesday on allowing the two cameras in the courtroom, though he rejected a media request for two additional cameras.
The cameras allowed were stationed near the jury box and captured images of Plackowska entering and leaving the courtroom. But her back was to the lenses as she stood in front of Kleeman to plead not guilty to the 10 counts of murder she faces.
Her attorney and State’s Attorney Robert Berlin also had not filed any objections to the video coverage of the hearing.
Afterward, Berlin said the cameras in the courtroom didn’t affect the hearing.
“The arraignment was like any other arraignment we do in this building,” Berlin said, adding: “honestly, I didn’t even notice the cameras.”
Still, he said he remains wary that courtroom cameras potentially could disrupt sensitive legal proceedings.
“What happens in a courtroom is serious business, it’s not entertainment,” Berlin said.
Mara shrugged off the legally historic event, saying camera coverage of Illinois court hearing appears to be inevitable.
“It’s something that’s happening,” he said.
The program introducing cameras into Illinois courtrooms so far has gone smoothly, with intensive media coverage occurring without problems even during trials in several other counties, Supreme Court spokesman Joseph Tybor said.
“It looks like cameras so far can be introduced into Illinois courtrooms,” Tybor said.
The pilot program allowing cameras in DuPage County is likely to open the door to eventually have video coverage of hearings in other parts of the Chicago area, including Chicago and Cook County, Tybor said.
“DuPage is a stepping stone to Chicago,” Tybor said.