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Local News

Aging courthouse not suited for cameras, but Will County chief judge supports idea

State Supreme Court makes permanent cameras-in-court policy

The Will County Courthouse in Joliet. The state’s high court this week announced permanent rules that allows news camera into courtrooms during trials and other court proceedings. Will County Chief Circuit Court Judge Richard Schoenstedt said he “fully supports” the idea, but only after the county builds a new courthouse.
The Will County Courthouse in Joliet. The state’s high court this week announced permanent rules that allows news camera into courtrooms during trials and other court proceedings. Will County Chief Circuit Court Judge Richard Schoenstedt said he “fully supports” the idea, but only after the county builds a new courthouse.

JOLIET – Calling a four-year pilot project a success, the state’s high court this week announced permanent rules that allow news cameras in courtrooms during trials and other proceedings.

But the Illinois Supreme Court’s move to turn a test run into a permanent program likely won’t have an effect for some time on the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Will County.

Will County Chief Circuit Court Judge Richard Schoenstedt said he “fully supports” the idea of permitting news cameras in courtrooms, but only after the county builds a new $150 million-to-$175 million courthouse in downtown Joliet. The new courthouse is on track to be built by 2018.

“We’ve had some big cases that I’m sure the public would like to see through cameras being permitted in the courtrooms,” Schoenstedt said. “[The circuit judges in Will County] all understand it’s something we want to do eventually, but the building we have now is just not ready for that.”

The circuit court’s 23 courtrooms lack the necessary space and security, and do not meet Illinois Supreme Court minimum standards, he said.

Due to technology and space restraints, Schoenstedt said he doesn’t plan to petition the state Supreme Court to allow cameras in the current courthouse.

Several high-profile trials have occurred in Will County during the past decade, including the murder trials of Drew Peterson, Christopher Vaughn and the four people convicted in connection with the 2013 Hickory Street killings.

Schoenstedt said he is working closely with Darien-based architecture firm Wight & Co. on design plans for a new courthouse so that they include at least three courtrooms – criminal, civil jury and bond – with camera capabilities, in addition to other standard courtrooms.

Since the state’s pilot program launched in January 2012, more than 450 media requests have been made with the 15 participating judicial circuits, according to an Illinois Supreme Court news release.

The 13th Judicial Circuit Court – which is based in Grundy County but also covers LaSalle and Bureau counties – has not filed a petition to allow cameras in courtrooms, Court Administrator Lori Wakeman said.

Wakeman said she forwarded the state Supreme Court news release to the circuit judges to start discussions. But she wouldn’t speculate as to whether the circuit court in Grundy will petition the state’s high court in future years.

Thirteenth Circuit Court Chief Judge H. Chris Ryan Jr. did respond to phone calls seeking comment.

The move to make the program permanent supports the court’s “continued goal of promoting greater transparency, accountability, and accessibility to the court system,” according to the Illinois Supreme Court release.

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