- Associated Press - Monday, February 22, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) - Illinois is making its cameras-in-court policy permanent after having success with a four-year experiment that allowed media coverage at some trials, state high court officials said Monday.

An Illinois Supreme Court spokesman said safeguards at several dozen trials where news cameras and audio recording devices have been allowed for the pilot project since 2012 have worked, despite concern that having media in court could create a disruptive, circus-like atmosphere.

“There were no red flags in any of the instances,” spokeswoman Bethany Krajelis said.

Most other states have had permanent policies allowing cameras and audio recording devices in courts for years. Illinois has allowed the devices in Illinois Supreme Court and appellate court hearings since 1983. At the time, the ban at state-court trials was continued out of fear of undermining defendants’ rights to a fair trial.

Although historic, Monday’s decision wasn’t a surprise and won’t immediately change the number of participants. Nine judicial districts that opted not to participate in the pilot project won’t be forced to now that it’s permanent; 15 of the state’s remaining districts are taking part.

Also, cameras still won’t be allowed during jury selection and presiding judges will continue to have the final word about letting cameras in and under what conditions.

Cook County, which has more than 400 county judges overseeing more than a million cases a year in Chicago and more than 120 suburbs, joined the program in 2014.

Media have made about 450 requests for access to hearings and trials, with courts granting the requests in most cases, Krajelis said.

Among the first high-profile trials to allow cameras during the pilot program was the 2012 murder trial of Nicholas Sheley in Whiteside County. Sheley was convicted of killing 93-year-old Russell Reed, one of eight people he’s accused of killing during shootings in Illinois and Missouri.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers had argued the media coverage inside the courtroom at that Sheley trial would make it impossible to pick impartial juries for trials in the other killings. But Judge Jeffery O’Connor said at the time he was sure jurors would fulfill their duty to give Sheley a fair trial.

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