Pending case could open juvenile, family court proceedings in Kentucky

KENTUCKY— Journalists inKentucky are ”cautiously optimistic” about a case pending before afederal appeals court that could open juvenile and family court proceedings tothe public.

After more than 100 years of tightly closed courtdockets, ”any step forward would be a giant step forward,” said JohnNelson, former president of the Kentucky Press Association, the organizationthat is challenging the constitutionality of closed court proceedings andrecords.

The press association initially filed suit in 2004 againstthe state of Kentucky in a federal district court in Frankfort, but the courtdismissed the suit, claiming that the ”press had no First Amendment rightof access to juvenile court proceedings and documents.”

Attorneys for the press association then filed an appeal with the6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in July, and in late November the court heardoral arguments from both sides of the case.

There was somediscussion during the oral arguments that the press association should havepursued their case in a state court, or sought access to individual juvenilecases instead of filing suit ”across the board,” said JonFleischaker, lead council for the press association.

But Fleischakermade the case that journalists and attorneys were unable to challenge theclosure on a case-by-case basis because closed proceedings make it difficult tosingle out even basic information about a juvenilecase.

”There’s not even a docket to show which casesexits,” Fleischaker said.

There is also the possibility thatthe appeals court could order the state to open just family court proceedings,as family courts hear charges against adults, hesaid.

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