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Our View: Make cameras in courtrooms permanent

Published: Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride, a Rock Island Democrat, will yield control of the Illinois Supreme Court next month to a new chief justice, Rita Garman, a Danville Republican.

One of Kilbride’s initiatives during the past 3 years – allowing news cameras and microphones in certain courtrooms on a trial basis – appears to be in good hands.

We are thankful for that.

After the latest group of counties was accepted last week for the Extended Media Coverage trial program, Garman voiced her support.

“I am pleased to see the Sixth Circuit [Champaign, DeWitt, Douglas, Macon, Moultrie and Piatt counties] participate in the pilot project,” Garman stated in a news release.

Garman, who will mark her 40th anniversary in the judiciary in January, appears to be fully on board with Kilbride’s initiative, which was announced in January 2012.

The number of counties participating in the pilot project has now increased to 35, a number that includes DeKalb County.

Participating counties range from northwestern Illinois to northeastern Illinois, from the Chicago collar counties to the St. Louis Metro East, from east-central Illinois to far southern Illinois.

But Illinois has 102 counties, meaning that courtrooms in 67 counties still do 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 3-year term as chief justice next month.

However, Garman’s commitment to cameras in the courtroom appears sincere.

In addition, Kilbride still has 7 years left in his term to further promote his initiative, so the chances that it will stall are minimal.

Based on the Daily Chronicle’s experience with cameras in the courtroom, the process works well. News photographers and videographers have proved they can operate still and video cameras in an unobtrusive manner during trials. The courts conduct their business in public, and the public is interested in the goings-on. It seems natural and fair that people be allowed to fully view the proceedings through media reports.

We believe the images and video show the public a criminal justice system that operates in a professional manner as defendants are tried for serious crimes.

The result should 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.

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