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Pilot program allowing cameras in certain Cook County criminal courtrooms begins Jan. 5

By Bethany Krajelis | Dec 16, 2014

The media will soon be allowed to video and audio record certain criminal proceedings in Cook County.

According to a news release issued Tuesday by the Illinois Supreme, the high court has approved the addition of the Cook County Circuit Court to its cameras in the courtroom pilot program that is already underway in 40 other counties.

Starting Jan. 5, the media will allowed to video and audio record proceedings at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th Street and California Avenue in Chicago, the release states.

"The initial phase of pilot program will be limited to the Leighton Court Building and to felony cases only," according to a release on the circuit court's website that notes all bond calls at Leighton, including Central Bond Court, Branch 66 and Branch 98, will be prohibited from recording.

"The opening of Cook County criminal courtrooms to media cameras is a significant and very welcome step in our efforts to bring greater transparency to the judicial process,: Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman said in the release. "The experience with media coverage in other judicial circuits has been overwhelmingly positive, and it is time to extend the pilot program to the most populous county in the state."

Cook County will become the 15th, and the largest circuit in the state, to allow cameras in its courtrooms under the Supreme Court's Policy for Extended Media Coverage, which was announced nearly two years ago.

Pointing to the size of criminal court system and the number of media outlets interested in recording proceedings, Garman said "[t]his is a challenging undertaking" for Cook County, but said she is confident Cook County Chief Judge Timothy C. Evans and his staff "will rise to the challenge."

Evans said in the release he is pleased the public will soon be able to "hear and see through extended media coverage exactly what is taking place in Cook County courtrooms.""[T]his is a tremendous step forward to enhanced transparency and accountability at every level of the court system," Evans said. "The public's understanding of how their justice system truly operates will be enhanced as they observe firsthand that litigants are treated with respect and that justice can be done fairly and impartially."Under the pilot program, media interested in bringing cameras into a courtroom must make an advanced request to the court. Attorneys will be required to inform parties and witness of such a request and will be able to object, although the trial judge has absolute discretion on whether to allow media coverage of a proceeding.The program prohibits media coverage of certain proceedings, like those involving sexual abuse and juveniles, as well as jury selection. More information on the Supreme Court's cameras in the courtroom pilot program be found here and a copy of the Circuit Court's administrative order can be found here.

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