Evans: Cameras could be coming to Cook County courts

By Mariel Turner

Cameras could be coming to Cook County courts under a plan announced by Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans Thursday.

“I have submitted to the Illinois Supreme Court, Cook County’s formal request for approval for extended media coverage,” said Evans. “And with that formal request, I submitted the Cook County protocol for cameras in the courtroom. People will see for themselves the capability and the compassion that arises from the decisions that judges make.”

Many court systems around the country already allow cameras in their courtrooms. The O.J. Simpson murder trial was televised by the Superior Court in Los Angeles County back in 1994 to mixed reviews. More recently, the Trayvon Martin trial in Seminole County, Fla., was broadcast by several networks. A Colorado judge recently ruled that cameras would be allowed in the trial of James Holmes, the alleged gunman in the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting.

Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans greets supporters after detailing upcoming changes to Cook County courtrooms.
Circuit Court Chief Judge Timothy Evans greets supporters after detailing upcoming changes to Cook County courtrooms.

Craig LaMay, a professor of media ethics and law at Northwestern University, said it’s time that Cook County caught up and he predicted that cameras in the courtroom could benefit the residents of Cook County.

“Virtually everywhere cameras are allowed in courtrooms they are subject to rules about how they’re used, and in virtually every case research shows they improve the judicial process in important ways,” said LaMay. “Everybody in the court room knows they’re being watched, so they do their jobs better.”

Speaking before the City Club of Chicago, Evans also announced he wants to create a new bond court system that would reduce the number of people in jail solely because they don’t have enough money to post bond. Evans has long complained about overcrowding at the Cook County Jail at 2700 S. California Ave.

“This will be a data-driven, scientific approach to problem solving in bond court,” said Evans. “One that takes the latest science and applies it to the background of the people who come before the judge. That system will be used to make certain that people who have been accused of nonviolent crimes and who don’t have the kind of criminal history to require them to be locked up pending their court proceedings, those people will be released.”

Pretrial officers will use standardized-risk assessment tests to help determine who can be counted on to appear for future court dates. The system has been tried successfully in other states, including courtrooms in California, Arizona and North Carolina, according to Evans.

In another area under his jurisdiction, Evans will soon be naming a new leader at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center. The center houses almost 300 youths. A 15-member committee helped Evans pick the new leader, whose name will be announced next week.

The juvenile detention center has been without a permanent director for seven years. Back then a federal judge appointed Earl Dunlap, a juvenile justice expert, as interim director, because of a lawsuit. Under the reign of former County Board President Todd Stroger, staff members were accused of mental and physical abuse and the facility was commonly described as dangerous and filthy.

Evans said that many of his proposed changes, including a five-year plan to reach national courtroom standards, are long overdue.

“It will be expected that every court in Cook County will equal or exceed the national standards, dealing with integrity, expedition resolution to cases in a timely manner and also a vigorous commitment to justice,” said Evans. “We are well on the way, and I think with the additional help that will be coming in we will be able to go forward.”