Be Careful Where Camera Goes

The good news is a state that historically has not allowed camera coverage in its trial courts is going to.

Illinois’ chief justice said yesterday that his state’s supreme court will be changing its policy as of Tuesday.

“The idea behind this is simple. We need to have the courts be more open,” Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride is quoted as saying in the Quincy (IL) Journal.

Only 13 more states to go, although some whose rules already do–on paper–allow cameras, in reality don’t. The reason is the judge presiding over a case and all parties involved in the case must agree to allow camera access. And that has proven to be next to impossible.

While the Illinois court system is making the right move and I champion courtroom-camera coverage in almost all circumstances, I do question the placement of some cameras in a new courthouse being planned for Illinois’ Lake County.

The  courtrooms are to be equipped with two cameras each, Lake County courts Chief Judge Fred Foreman told a reporter there. One will be above the judges’ heads and the other will be over the entrance into the courtroom positioned so that jurors will not be recorded.

That would certainly satisfy the news media’s wish to be able to place their cameras in the front of a courtroom near the judge’s bench so they can get faces instead of backs of heads and an overall view of participants and spectators.

That would have been possible in California, the judge in a case permitting, until a decade-and-half ago.

I didn’t have a strong opinion about it, except for thinking that where ever cameras were placed they should be unobtrusive, and having them under the judge’s or court clerk’s nose was hardly unobtrusive.

A change in  California courts camera-access rule in 1997 to include a ban photographing or showing courtroom spectators on television, however, brought into sharp focus the ramifications of photographing/televising courtroom spectators.

While I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about some of the provisions in the rule changes that made it more restrictive, I came to appreciate that one.

One reason was because, even though the cameras covering the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial in the Los Angeles Superior Court, where I worked, generally didn’t focus on celebrities who graced that courtroom, perhaps hoping for a cameo shot, that trial certainly did become THE place to be seen. Folks such as faux-sensational journalist Geraldo Rivera; an extremely pregger Kardashian mom Kris Jenner and her current hubby, past-decalthete Bruce Jenner; actors James Wood and Richard Dreyfuss, and TV-magazine host Barbara Walters were among the fortunate ones to actually get in. They might not have even tried, though,  if there were no chance of making the evening news.

Another, and I think more important, reason is to respect the dignity and grief of victims’ and/or victims’ relatives’, some of whom plain long shouldn’t be photographed or televised at all.

An example is a 4-year-old child who was 2 when he was injured and his 3-year-old sister killed by gunfire after the car they were in took a wrong turn into a gang-infested neighborhood alley. The boy was in the courtroom during the sentencing hearing of the men who were convicted in the shooting and would have been televised if the camera crew hadn’t been told to stop  just before the TV camera got the child in its sites.

It’s one thing to have a security camera positioned to get a full view of the courtroom, but another for a news media camera to be in that position.

It might be a good idea for Chief Judge Foreman and other Lake County officials to reconsider that decision.

One response to “Be Careful Where Camera Goes

  1. Pingback: Google Isn’t Really All That Alert | Anatomy of a Trial blog

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