Routine Juvenile Court Press Access Seems Doomed

A state appeals court has issued a tentative ruling that it will overturn an open-court decision by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of the county’s juvenile court who had decreed that dependency hearings were “presumptively open” to the press. The issue has been highlighted by open-court advocates who argue that state oversight of child custody is of immense public interest.
On the other hand, social worker unions and others have argued that protecting the privacy of children is more important than open courts. For example, they argue, the presumption of an open court means families and attorneys would have to monitor courtrooms to see if media was present. The Los Angeles Times and the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law have filed briefs asking the appeals court to keep the hearings open.
In an L.A. Times report on the pending decision, which is open for more arguments later this month, the children’s institute director, Robert Fellmeth, said, “We fully agree that there are many instances where it’s appropriate to have confidentiality and protect vulnerable children from exposure. Nash’s order allowed that, liberally… what we oppose is the draconian cloak of secrecy that conceals this profound exercise in state parenting.”