Los Angeles County court officials could soon allow the press and public to attend proceedings involving children. The county's presiding children's court judge announced Monday he'll enact his proposal to allow access.
Outsiders, including journalists, are barred from dependency courtrooms without permission. Cases typically involve adoption and foster care. Child welfare advocates are praising Judge Michael Nash's effort to open court proceedings with some limitations.
At least a dozen supporters — including fathers, mothers and foster parents — rallied on the steps of L.A. County’s Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park before the judge ruled.
Organizer Margaret Prescod helps run an advocacy group that wants L.A. County's Department of Children and Family Services to, as she puts it, “Give Us Back Our Children.”
Prescod criticized opponents of the measure who argue that open courts could further traumatize children who’ve been abused, neglected or allowed to suffer in other ways.
“We are mindful of the fears of children and families concerned about privacy," Prescod said. "We believe that Judge Nash's order gives judges the power to protect that privacy and we urge them to exercise that power with diligence and respect."
Some critics of Judge Nash’s plan include legal scholar William Patton of Whittier Law School in Orange County. He maintains that a better approach would dovetail with current California law that allows judges to balance the rights of the child with the rights of the public and media to have access to court hearings.
“That presumption is important," Patton said, "because courts could still control the access and dissemination of information, and if the media or others publish that information when it should not be published, the court could in subsequent proceedings not admit them because they’re a danger to children.”
Supporters and critics spoke before Judge Nash about his plan before he issued a ruling to enact the order.
Nash maintains that he’s opening key courts in L.A. County to practice transparency and accountability — or, as he's reportedly said, to let the sunshine in.