This is the final part of a five-part series on cameras in courts.
SPRINGFIELD — Cook County Circuit Judge Steven J. Bernstein wonders about the positive or negative impact a news camera could make on a court proceeding.
But he thinks even more, he said, about what happens when that camera leaves a trial and how the images it gathered might get used.
"In a criminal court, we have people who are presumed innocent," said Bernstein, who won election in 2010. "If the case is ultimately found in favor of the defendant, who is innocent, then his face would have been all over the world — and I don't know if that's fair."
Last month, Bernstein became the first Cook County judge to preside over a hearing with a camera present. A special exception by the Illinois Supreme Court allowed a national "CBS Evening News" camera into a DUI case Bernstein handled.
Bernstein said the camera didn't affect the proceeding — but during testimony in bigger cases, he worries it could make a person more nervous or encourage them to act out.
"It's just human nature that the presence of cameras enhances or diminishes their ability to get comfortable," he said.
A pilot project unveiled by the Supreme Court in January allows news media cameras and audio recorders into select circuit courts for the first time ever.
Chief Cook County Circuit Judge Timothy C. Evans' application for the program remains pending, but he said cameras might enter area hearings by the end of the year.
As the judicial system and media prepare for that transition, proponents and critics of the idea said trust — over how cameras impact proceedings and news outlets handle coverage — represents a critical part of the process.
Nancy S. Marder, an IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law professor and director of the school's Jury Center, said she doesn't believe other states with cameras policies can prove they deliver promised benefits, including increased judicial accountability and public knowledge of courts.
Marder — whose article, "The Conundrum of Cameras in the Courtroom," appears in the Arizona State Law Journal later this year — contends posting audio or transcripts of court proceedings online represents a safer approach to increased transparency.
With modern tools that can easily manipulate photos and videos, she said, courts should remain especially cautious to cameras.
"Once images are online, it's really uncontrollable," she said. "One bad moment in a courtroom can end up on YouTube forever."
In states more accustomed to cameras in courts, however, some observers said it simply takes time for attorneys and judges to grow comfortable with their presence.
Mark Sableman, a partner at Thompson, Coburn LLP in St. Louis who practices media law, said one court in his state found coverage especially valuable.
After the Missouri Supreme Court allowed extended coverage of its proceedings 20 years ago, he said, a radio network eventually began streaming audio of oral arguments online.
The feature grew so popular with practitioners, Sableman said, that when the operation shut down due to funding problems, the state high court launched its own streaming service.
Sableman, who chairs a subcommittee of the Missouri Press-Bar Commission re-evaluating the state's cameras policy, said the judiciary's trust of media increases gradually over time.
News outlets can advance that process in small ways, he said, like closely following court rules, coordinating coverage and dressing appropriately for hearings.
"The more the media can do that, the more confidence the judges will have in them," he said. "If media entities don't do those things, judges are going to lose confidence."
In Wisconsin, which adopted a cameras policy in 1978, some relationships became so strong, courts gave media greater freedom during trials, said Mark Hertzberg, the recently retired director of photography at The Journal Times in Racine, Wis.
Instead of confining photographers to the back of a courtroom, he said, some judges eventually let them sit near the front, which helped capture more emotional moments of proceedings.
But media outlets must always remember that any opportunity can easily go away, he said.
"If the press screws up, the press is going to lose the privilege," Hertzberg said. "The press has to show respect for the system."
A major media market like Chicago, however, fosters far more chances for sensationalized coverage, said Dennis M. Dohm, a retired Cook County circuit judge.
Dohm said some judges may harbor suspicions about how media will portray court proceedings, fearing that a small moment could get taken out of context and blown out of proportion.
And unless the public proves willing to watch gavel-to-gavel coverage, he said, a camera can't do much to enhance understanding of the court system.
"It's a sensational trial that gets covered — or something with a celebrity in it or unusual facts," he said. "And that is not the typical trial. That's what's very disturbing to me."
Bernstein, the Cook County judge who presided in the hearing with a camera, predicts similar coverage patterns — joking that a live feed of many courtrooms "would be the least-watched program on television."
Though open to the idea, he said he plans to reserve judgment on the viability of cameras until he can see how they impact proceedings.
"If it doesn't impede the fact-finding process, I think it'll be fine," he said. "But we have to make sure there are safeguards."