Illinois Bar Journal

February 2012Volume 100Number 2Page 70

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Federal pilot program puts cameras in northern district courts

Illinois' northern district is one of 14 courts participating in a federal program that allows videorecording of civil cases before district judges if all parties consent.

Cameras in the courts are here.

Historically, state and federal courts have taken a dim view of photographing court proceedings. The website of the United States Courts notes that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53 has prohibited taking photographs in criminal proceedings ever since 1946 and that in 1972, the Judicial Conference of the United States formally prohibited broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in courtrooms and adjacent areas. In Illinois, SCR 63A(7) prohibits both taking photographs in state courtrooms during court proceedings or recesses and broadcasting or televising court proceedings, except to the extent authorized by the supreme court.

More recently, the courts have begun easing those restrictions. The Illinois Supreme Court has authorized videorecording oral arguments before it and audiorecordings of appellate court arguments and posts those recordings on its website for public viewing. The Judicial Conference of the United States Courts has authorized the courts of appeal to decide for themselves whether to permit audio or video recordings of arguments, and the seventh circuit has chosen to record audio of arguments before it and to post them on its website. The Judicial Conference also authorized a three-year pilot project in the 1990s but, after its conclusion, declined to approve a recommendation of its Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) to permit camera recordings of proceedings in all federal trial and appellate courts.

Now, the federal Judicial Conference has approved another video recording pilot program, beginning in June 2011. According to the U.S. Courts website, the program's aim is to evaluate the effect of cameras in district court courtrooms, video recordings of proceedings, and the publication of those video recordings. The pilot limits its scope to civil cases before U.S. district judges and conditions recording on the consent of all parties. Fourteen courts are participating, including the district court for the Northern District of Illinois.

As part of its participation in the pilot, the northern district has adopted new policies, which it explains and links to at New subsection (e) to Local Rule 83.1, which governs court facilities, exempts proceedings that are being recorded as part of the pilot from subsection (c)'s general prohibition of photographing, broadcasting, or taping court proceedings. Only court cameras are permitted to record proceedings, and those recordings must comply with the Judicial Conference's guidelines. The page also contains links to a guide for implementation from CACM dated July 26, 2011, questions and answers from CACM, amended LR 83.1, and a downloadable form response to a request for recording under the pilot project.

Parties, media may request recording

Judge Amy St. Eve of the northern district, who is a CACM committee member, said she's asking lawyers in all civil cases before her whether they will consent to having proceedings recorded. Because "[t]o date every case has had one yes and one no," none of her cases have yet been recorded.

She said she hopes that the district will get samples for the pilot and is optimistic that "[o]nce we get the news out, I'm hopeful that we will." St. Eve noted that one of the pilot's goals is for diverse types of proceedings to be recorded, mentioning Daubert and other hearings in addition to trials.

The Judicial Conference is encouraging the participating courts, including the clerks as well as the judges, to initiate requests to record proceedings. The parties to cases may also request that proceedings be recorded, as may the media.

To do so, St. Eve said they may use the form response available on the court's website or may verbally address their requests to the judges presiding. A party may consent to have only part of a proceeding recorded, and the presiding judges may exercise their discretion against recording a proceeding that contains sensitive matter or against publishing a recording of a proceeding.

If a witness objects to having his or her testimony recorded, lawyers are to inform the presiding judge, who will consider whether relief is appropriate. Voir dire of prospective jurors will not be recorded.

Neither the Central nor Southern Districts of Illinois are participating in the pilot. Chief Judge Michael McCuskey of the Central District of Illinois said the judges in his district discussed the pilot project but generally were not interested in participating. McCuskey said that in his view, it makes more sense for the larger courthouses to participate in the pilot program. A spokesman from the Illinois Supreme Court noted that Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride has gone on record as saying that he does not oppose cameras in courtrooms, but said that the court currently has nothing new to report on that matter.

The northern district will post recorded proceedings for public viewing on as well as on its own website within a reasonable period after recording them. You can view proceedings from courts that have implemented the pilot program at

Helen W. Gunnarsson is an associate counsel at the American Bar Association's Center for Professional Responsibility in Chicago. As the IBJ's first contributing writer, she wrote the LawPulse feature since its inception in 2001 and most of the cover stories from 2004 through this issue in 2012. She can be reached at

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