January 24, 2012

Legal expert: Cameras in courtrooms ‘positive step’

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision to allow news cameras and electronic news recording in the state’s trial courtrooms is “a positive step in the right direction,” according to a veteran attorney and professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law.

“There is nothing better than exposing legal proceedings in this state for all to see,” William A. Schroeder said.  “More often than not, it’s going to make the lawyers and judges look good.  Most of our judges are good and competent judges, and if people are able to see how hard they work and how competent they are, they will would be reassured about the legal system.”

The Illinois Supreme Court today (Jan. 24) announced the program on an experimental and limited basis in select civil and criminal proceedings.  While news cameras have been in the state’s supreme and appellate courts since 1983, Illinois was of 14 states in the nation to not allow or hardly permit cameras in trial courtrooms.

Media Availability

William A. Schroeder, professor at the SIU School of Law, is available for interviews.  To arrange interviews, contact Schroeder at 618/453-8747.


Schroeder said he believes that Illinois Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride’s guidelines that prohibit some specific trial and court proceedings is reasonable. The policy prohibits cameras and recording devices during jury selection or on individual jurors themselves, in addition to juvenile, divorce, child custody, and evidence suppression and trade secret cases. Unless there is victim consent, victim testimony in sexual assault or forcible felony cases is not allowed. Police informants, undercover police and relocated witnesses may also request a ban on cameras.

“The restrictions all make sense,” Schroeder said.  “This will still allow the public to be present and understand what is going on in the courts, and make sure they are performing in a proper and judicious manner.  I think it’s a wonderful thing.”

The policy encourages pool coverage and will not permit more than two news cameras and no more than two still photographers in the courtroom.  Space limitations in some courtrooms might present physical obstacles in some instances, but Schroeder does not believe that will be an impossible situation for court systems to meet.

“I don’t think those are questions that are fatal to the whole enterprise.  I don’t see those as being a major problem in most instances,” he said.

The only “downside,” he said, might be a tendency for “some lawyers to show off for the cameras.”

“I think that is always a danger,” he said.  “But I think that is a small price to pay for the openness you will get.”

It will be up to judges to restrict what they might perceive as a theatrical performance, he said.

“I think it’s good for the system that people are able to see the witnesses and evidence go in, and they will be able to form their own opinion on the proceedings,” he said.

Schroeder would also like Illinois to consider video recordings of all court proceedings in lieu of relying solely upon court transcripts.  There would be no mistakes, omissions, or interpretation problems, and also viewers could see the reactions and body language of witnesses and attorneys, he said.