Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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February 28, 2014

Opening some juvenile court hearings up for debate

FRANKFORT —

Some juvenile court proceedings may soon be open to the public, but the measure still faces some stiff opposition in the state Senate from some.

The Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday approved Senate Bill 157, sponsored by Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, to allow the Supreme Court to designate between three and seven areas for a four-year pilot program.

Givens said he’d had conflicting reactions to the idea of opening juvenile courts – now closed to protect the interests of the minor child – but had concluded there is no way to determine if the courts and the Cabinet for Health and Families are doing their jobs properly without the experiment.

His bill would allow judges to close proceedings when they thought it in the best interests of the child; prohibits anyone from disclosing the name of a child or party or witnesses; and permits observers to take only written notes which could not include the names of the parties.

Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell also testified for the measure, telling the committee the public has “a legitimate and compelling interest” in how the system works. He said Givens’ bill provides adequate protections for those involved.

He said Kentucky is one of a minority of 10 or so states which unconditionally close juvenile courts and the National Council of Juvenile Court Judges have been on record since a 1995 resolution favoring open juvenile courts.

But Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, an attorney, objected, saying she had “not heard one word about the juvenile, the child who is the subject of the whole matter.”

“Are we trying to placate the newspapers?” Webb asked. “Who are we trying to placate.”

Press groups have in the past sought to have the courts opened, contending the public has a right to know about criminal proceedings especially.

O’Connell conceded that the county attorney association hadn’t taken a position on the bill, acknowledging there are some on both sides of the issue.

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