This is part one of a five-part series on cameras in courtrooms.
SPRINGFIELD — Photographer Mark Hertzberg didn't like what he saw through his camera lens outside a courthouse.
Far away from the dramatic moments of a trial, he could only snap images of a defendant in handcuffs, flanked by police.
Once the Wisconsin Supreme Court began allowing media cameras into trial courts in 1978, though, Hertzberg showed his newspaper's readers a side of the justice system Illinois residents never got to see.
To Hertzberg, who retired in March as director of photography for The Journal Times in Racine, Wis., the benefits of cameras in courts appear crystal clear.
"It's important to give people as much opportunity as possible to see the real thing," he said, "rather than only having access to paraphrasing."
As Illinois begins its own pilot project this year testing extended media coverage — audio, video and photographic recordings — in trial courtrooms, many states who took the step years or decades ago report significant successes.
Not all such efforts lasted, though, and critics of the policy claim few states can prove that the promised benefits of cameras in courts ever materialized.
In January, Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride unveiled the experimental program, removing Illinois from the list of 14 states that ban or heavily restrict cameras in trial courts.
Extended coverage can occur in Illinois circuits approved by the high court, and the program requires media outlets to request permission to cover proceedings at least two weeks in advance, subject to the chief circuit judge's discretion.
A seven-page order lays out additional rules, drawing heavily from plans used in other states. It outlines types of sensitive cases that can't be covered and the number of cameras that can be in a courtroom at once. It also bans depictions of jurors and allows a process for attorneys or witnesses to challenge coverage requests.
Additionally, the plan creates a media coordinator position — a designated area journalist that handles requests from news outlets and serves as a liaison between the media and the court.
Successes and failures
In the 34 years since Wisconsin launched its program, cameras steadily became a part of normal life in court, said Robert J. Dreps, a media law attorney at Godfrey & Kahn S.C. in Madison.
His TV and newspaper clients rarely report trouble with accessing courtrooms, Dreps said, as judges gradually grew accustomed to cameras.
"All it requires is people getting comfortable with the idea that it doesn't really impact the proceeding," he said. "People quickly forget they're even there. They've got more important issues to deal with than to play for a camera."
Missouri, meanwhile, waited until 1992 to permit extended media coverage at the trial court level.
Unlike Wisconsin, however, Missouri's policy gives judges more control over when to allow cameras, so not all courtrooms see lenses frequently, said Mark Sableman, a partner who practices intellectual property and media law at Thompson, Coburn LLP in St. Louis.
Sableman chairs a subcommittee of the Missouri Press-Bar Commission that recently began re-evaluating the state's cameras policy. As part of that effort, the group surveyed judges on their experiences with the media, looking for ways to improve the guidelines.
In many rural areas of Missouri, judges continue to carry reservations about cameras in their courts, Sableman said. Near Kansas City, though, several trials saw significant coverage, garnering positive responses from judges and attorneys.
While the policy allows previously unobtainable access to courts, Sableman admits judges remain unconvinced it improves public knowledge of the system.
"I don't think there have been negatives," he said, "but I don't think we've seen a new outburst of understanding of the judiciary just because cameras have been allowed in."
Not all states, however, boast pilot program success stories. Indiana launched an effort in 2007, but the state suspended it after the 18-month test period.
Stephen Key, executive director and general counsel of the Hoosier State Press Association, said the program failed for one reason — it proved far too restrictive.
For cameras to enter courts under Indiana's policy, both parties in a case needed to consent. Defendants in criminal or civil proceedings rarely wanted coverage and the program ended with cameras at just five trials.
The state will test a new program soon, though, posting delayed video of three Lake County civil courts on a newspaper's website.
Indiana Supreme Court justices remain reluctant to expanded use of cameras, Key said, due to a concern that they influence courtroom behavior.
"It's just a cautious attitude," he said. "They would hate to see the outcome of a trial be altered because a camera happened to be in at a certain time and sends some sort of wrong signal."
Pros and cons
Kathleen A. Kirby, a Washington, D.C., attorney who represents the Radio Television Digital News Association, said most states report positive experiences with camera programs — though the amount of access allowed remains a key to that success.
Policies that give judges wide power to keep cameras out or let certain parties veto coverage stall the efforts before they get off the ground, she said.
"Historically, those have not been the kinds of rules that really help with openness," she said, "or that give the courts experience so they can really make an assessment one way or another."
No court of review ever overturned a verdict based on the presence of cameras, Kirby said, and major policy violations, like media showing a juror, remain rare.
But not everyone sees the positives so easily, including Nancy S. Marder, an IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law professor and director of the school's Jury Center.
Marder said no statistical data exists to prove that cameras benefit courts or the public. Most state surveys analyzing such programs contain only anecdotal reports of success, she said, usually from people already supportive of the idea.
Marder, whose article "The Conundrum of Cameras in the Courtroom" will appear in the Arizona State Law Journal later this year, preaches caution.
She said posting transcripts or audio recordings of cases online gives expanded media access without affecting the justice process.
"Once you add the image, then people focus on other things — minutia — not the argument, not the law," she said. "It ends up being a distraction."
Hertzberg, the Wisconsin photographer, said he doesn't believe those drawbacks occur.
He said he does, though, fear for the future of Illinois' program, believing it allows ample opportunity for attorneys and witnesses to balk at coverage requests.
"It's going to be hard to get meaningful coverage and photography," he said. "You're somewhat doomed to less of a chance of success."