BLOOMINGTON — Extended media coverage will be allowed in the jury trial of a Bloomington woman accused of aggravated drunken driving in the death of a 21-year-old woman in downtown Bloomington.
Associate Judge Casey Costigan ruled Thursday that the media may photograph and record Katie Lawson’s trial when it begins next week in the June 24, 2012, death of Lauren Leffler of Bloomington.
The judge approved a request by Assistant State’s Attorney Jeff Horve to exclude five state witnesses from the coverage but denied a motion from defense lawyer Jane Foster to bar extended coverage of the entire proceeding.
Lawson is charged with aggravated driving under the influence in an accident that caused a death, driving on a suspended license, failure to report an accident, driving an uninsured vehicle and failure to reduce speed.
With permission from the judge handling a case, extended media coverage is allowed under a pilot program approved in January 2012 by the Illinois Supreme Court. McLean County courts have participated in the program since January 2013 when the Supreme Court granted a request by the 11th Judicial Circuit to allow extended media coverage.
In his arguments to exclude 11 witnesses, Horve said the people involved in the case expressed hesitation about being photographed because of their jobs or sensitive connections to the case. The judge allowed five exemptions.
Foster argued that media coverage of the downtown Bloomington bar scene, including another recent fatal drunken driving case and the DUI issued Sunday to a Bloomington police officer, could prejudice the jury. Lawson is accused of hitting Leffler as the victim crossed the street at the corner of Main and Washington Streets.
The coverage of the weekend alcohol-related incidents creates “almost a perfect storm where it’s next to impossible for my client to get a fair trial,” said Foster.
In his ruling, Costigan said questioning during the jury selection process should determine the level of prior knowledge would-be jurors have about the case and downtown bar issues.
Costigan noted that no problems have occurred this year with extended media coverage approved in several other McLean County cases. The Supreme Court’s goal for the pilot program is “to open the doors to the courts” while improving transparency and accountability, said the judge.