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Cameras and courtrooms don’t mix


Elzbieta Plackowska

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Updated: January 19, 2013 6:09AM

Don’t the reports in the print media about the televised Elzbieta Plackowska court hearing in DuPage County recently tell reams about the kinds of court cases that will be televised in the future if the Illinois Supreme Court permanently allows cameras in the trial courts?

News reports tell us that Plackowska, 40, on Oct. 30 allegedly stabbed to death her 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old girl she was baby-sitting. Two other cases have been televised, according to news reports: a street-shooting murder in Kankakee and a beating murder of an elderly woman in a western Illinois county by a man who is a suspect in seven other murders. These cases are not typical cases heard in the trial courts. They are known as “heater” cases — high-profile cases.

The electronic media will televise only sensational, celebrity or unusual-fact cases because TV is in the entertainment business, driven by profits from rates charged advertisers, — the rates being determined by the estimated number of viewers. What is replayed from a televised trial on the news will be hyped ahead of time by clips from the televised trial.

It is nonsense that the people cheerleading the experimental cameras in court program say that televised proceedings or replays of sensational parts of televised witnesses’ testimony gives “transparency” to court proceedings or “educates” the public about what happens in courts. In fact, televised proceedings in high-profile cases distort what happens in a court’s regular day.

The Illinois Supreme Court decided nearly 30 years ago that cameras in the supreme and appellate courts were acceptable under established guidelines. That court rejected cameras in trial courts because, in major part, it was feared that televising trials or later rerunning televised parts would misrepresent the typical, real work courts do. I know because I was there nearly 30 years ago. Nothing has materially changed since then — except the current membership of the Supreme Court.

The Sun-Times’ Dan Mihalopoulos noted in his Nov. 22 column that some TV viewers will watch court proceedings “to see if they think justice is . . . served, and others will watch at times to be titillated.” He said that in the televised Plackowska court hearing that the trial judge would not allow the camera to pan the spectators. But Mihalopoulos said showing the spectators, such as the defendant’s mother, “would show us at least the faces of many with the deepest stakes in — and broadest understanding of — what we see happening before the bench.” Why is that relevant? The spectators are not part of court proceedings. They are present because virtually all court proceedings are open to the public; they are not present to be psychoanalyzed by TV viewers as soap-opera characters are.

Dennis M. Dohm, retired circuit judge, Oak Lawn

Making sense of a senseless act

While we are all trying to make sense of the senseless act in Newtown, Conn., our hearts ache for the unimaginable grief of the families of the young children and the adults who lost their lives. We will hug our loved ones and vow to be kinder to all. Then, as we work to resolve our grief, we’ll ask WHY? What prompted this young man to commit this horrific act? We’ll want to blame this individual, his family, those who knew him. We’ll ask, “Why didn’t these people do something to prevent this?” What we all need to do is ask, “Why haven’t we all done something to prevent this?” There have been countless similar tragedies. This is not an isolated incident. We are all responsible and we need to act quickly to prevent further horrific tragedies. We need to improve our mental health delivery system. This is an opportunity to make a meaningful change that will help PREVENT further tragedies.

How do we do this? First, we need to recognize that most people living with serious mental illness are not perpetrating violence and are more likely to be the victim of violence due to the passivity and inattentiveness that is a byproduct of their illness. Education of the public about mental illness is badly needed. All should be knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of serious mental illness, in the same way that all are knowledgeable about the signs and symptoms of cancer or heart disease. We need to fund our mental health delivery system adequately. Instead of the massive budget cuts that have come to our Illinois mental health services this past year (30-40% this past year) and the closure of inpatient psychiatric beds, we need to fund services that enable persons living with mental illness to obtain all needed care and treatment. We need to change our laws to enable families and loved ones to more easily access care for those who are not able because of their psychiatric illness to request care for themselves. We need to continue to enhance our training of police officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and encourage them to direct individuals to treatment. We need to educate our judicial magistrates to enable them to recognize behaviors propelled by mental illness and mandate treatment rather than punitive incarceration. We need easier access to mandated outpatient treatment that holds individuals and mental health providers responsible for ongoing care for seriously mentally ill persons.

But this is not all — we also need to talk about gun control. These are things we CAN do. We just have to have the will to do it.

Suzanne M. Andriukaitis, M.A., LCSW, executive director,

Alliance on Mental Illness of Greater Chicago

Falling off the cliff

America has fallen off the cliff, and it is the Connecticut school massacre.

Sandra Minor, McHenry

No excuse for not trying to control guns

With all the millions of guns in circulation, it seems so difficult to reduce gun violence in this country. But that no longer is an excuse for not trying. Gun lobbies cannot have their way anymore. The assault weapons ban, too long dormant, should be reinstated immediately. Thorough background checks on every gun purchaser must become federal law. Organ-shattering bullet clips can be replaced by less lethal ammunition. Many people can help make these and other reasonable changes, but the leader must be the president. He has expressed the right sentiments, and now he and the Congress must back them up with enforceable legislation. That’s the least that can be done in memory of those children and educators in Connecticut.

Ed Stone, Northbrook

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