TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

State News

February 28, 2014

Debate ensues over juvenile court proceedings opening to public

CORBIN — By Ronnie Ellis / CNHI News Service

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 that 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.

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, sided with Webb, saying the change would allow “the judge to be pressured by the press. This is a very sensitive matter.” He said children are often scarred for life by events in their childhood and they would carry the stigma throughout their lives if the details were made public.

Givens said he understands no bill can construct “an absolute barrier” to potentially harmful effects of making proceeding public but he is “trying to find out do we have the most efficient cabinet, do we have the most efficient courts?”

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, supported the measure and said “much of this is shrouded in secrecy and is self-serving. (The public) needs to know what goes on in these family courts.”

The bill passed the committee with only Webb and Jones voting no.

The committee also sent to the Senate floor a bill sponsored by Sen. Jared Carpenter, R-Berea, which would allow victims of sexual violence to obtain a provisional license to carry a concealed weapon for 45 days.

Originally the bill called for the provisional licenses to be approved by the courts, but judges indicated they weren’t comfortable with that provision or qualified to issue the licenses. Carpenter amended the bill to have the license issued by the Kentucky State Police.

After the provisional period, the person could obtain a permanent license only if they completed the required training.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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