L.A. Judge Redefines Public Access to Juvenile Dependency Courts

On March 5th, the Presiding Judge of Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court issued an order defining the circumstances in which the public and press will be granted access to juvenile dependency hearings.

Tuesday’s order is virtually identical to the one Judge Michael Nash issued in February of 2012. The updated document acknowledges guidance within the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and Title IVE of the Social Security Act, which both allow states flexibility in who they can admit to juvenile dependency hearings as long as those “policies shall, at a minimum, ensure the safety and well-being of the child, parents and families.”

Nash’s original order, which cites case law to support the notion that the press has a “direct and legitimate interest” in the functioning of the court and should thus be admitted unless an objecting party can “demonstrate that harm or detriment to the minor child is reasonably likely to occur,” set off a statewide debate over the role of the news media in sensitive juvenile dependency hearings.

“The  press coverage increased in the last year, but has subsided somewhat since the first few months,” Nash said in an email to the Chronicle. “I have no problem with what has been reported. My preference would be to see folks from the press here every day to follow this system which, in Los Angeles in particular, is in danger because of court budget issues and a dysfunctional child welfare dept which may be moving in the wrong direction.”

While there has been interest in Nash’s approach to defining press access to juvenile dependency courts, California’s 57 other county-level juvenile courts are yet to follow suit.

“I do not see a movement by other judges in this state to take a more open approach,” Nash said. “I believe that is most unfortunate.”

Please find a link to the updated order: HERE.

Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the Publisher of the Chronicle of Social Change. 

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