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Some Federal Chicago Injury Trials May Now Be Caught on Camera

Televising or video recording the proceedings in courtrooms is not a new issue. Many have called for the showing of the legal proceedings for decades-either on TV or the Internet. However, actual use of video technology in courtrooms has been adopted only slowly. Most of the recent debate has been about recording proceedings at the U.S. Supreme Court, with many members of the high court remaining staunchly opposed to any such intrusion.

Yet, for all the debate about the cameras in the U.S. Supreme Court chamber, many have forgotten that cameras have already been used in certain state and federal chambers for the last twenty years. In more cases than not, the camera use has been allowed on a state-by-state basis, with most approvals coming in appellate courtrooms. With many exceptions (the O.J. Simpson case being the most obvious) fewer trial court proceedings have been televised and shared with the public. Of course, injury attorneys know that there is a huge difference between televising appellate proceedings and those at the trial level. Many in the general public fail to understand the significant difference between them. But any Chicago injury attorney will tell you that it is usually much easier for the public to understand the fact issues being argued in a trial versus the legal issues decided in appeals.

It is for that reason that calls have been consistently growing for increased use of cameras to allow the public to see actual trials. Many of those proponents will soon get their wish. As reported last week by WGN TV, Chicago is one of a handful of federal courts that will participate in a three year pilot project to record and publish federal civil trial proceedings. Courtrooms in northern California and Massachusetts will also participate in the effort. However, none of the other participating systems are as large as our Chicago federal system housed at the Dirksen Federal Building. Per the terms of the agreement approved recently the by Judicial Conference of the United States, the cameras will shoot directly at three spots: the judge’s bench, the podium where the lawyer addresses the court, and the witness box. The jury will never be shown, and judges will be given the option of having their faces kept hidden if they so chose.

Unlike other jurisdictions participating in this pilot project, the Chicago video feeds will not be streamed live online. Instead, they will be saved, edited, and then placed on the website for the Northern District. Interested parties will then be able to view the clips after the fact. Judges will maintain the power to order certain parts of the proceeding edited out before they are placed online.

Many Chicago injury lawyers have long hoped for more widespread use of cameras at the trial level, usually because they believe that it will help remind the general public about the benefit of the jury system. With medical malpractice caps consistently thrust upon the public as a cure-all, the use of cameras may be a sober reminder that the jury system is the heart of our system and tampering with it is unwise. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out, and what effects, if any, there are on trial strategy.

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