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Pilot Program Will Put Cameras in Federal Courtrooms in Chicago

Fellow Chicago injury lawyers might be interested to learn that a few local federal courtrooms will soon have a new addition-video cameras. Considering that most local law firms were out of commission over the week between Christmas and New Years, many may have missed the story from WGN TV explaining that Chicago will be one of slightly more than a dozen locations in which the camera project will be tried.

According to the story, the three-year pilot program will record select federal civil case trials. The decision to do so was made by the Judicial Conference of the United States, which approved use in fourteen districts. In addition to Chicago, cameras will be placed in federal courtrooms in northern California and Massachusetts. However, the Chicago location, at the Dirksen Federal Building, is the largest of the courts to participate in the trial program.

While the program has been in the works for quite some time, it is set to start now for at the beginning year. Those involved explained that the cameras are already in place in the participating rooms. Three cameras will be shooting directly at three different spots in the courtroom-the bench, the podium, and the witness box. Local practitioners will be interested to know that judges can choose not to have their faces shown, if they desire. Also, the jury will never be shown.

Unlike in a few of the other locations participating in the test, the Chicago cameras will not stream directly to the public online. Instead, the video will be saved on a network. Then, interested community members will be able to visit the website for the federal courts of the Northern District and view the video clips after the fact. This “time delay” will allow those involved to make any edits that may be deemed necessary. It will be interesting to see if there is anything that plays out in a courtroom that is ultimately decided to be unfit for public viewing. In all cases the judge will make the final call on whether or not the tape is edited.

As the pilot program progresses and the overall effect is better understood, the federal court clerk noted that the project may eventually be expanded to allow live streaming and could include federal criminal trials.

It will be fascinating to see how this plays out, and whether or not it affects courtroom strategy. Chicago injury lawyers and defense attorneys will have a lot of things to consider when it comes to asking judges to censor proceedings. In addition, the greatest effects may be long-term. In other words, it is a bit tough to see how any strategy would change in a Chicago birth injury trial if the jury isn’t seen, the tapes are not live, and the public viewership is only small and after the fact. However, if viewing the tapes becomes popular and more and more local community members do so their perception of the judicial system may ultimately change. Those changing perceptions may have ramifications on the beliefs of the jury pool and could clearly shift public opinion on hot-button issues like medical malpractice damage caps and other tort reform issues.

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