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Closed Door - A Need for Reform of the California Mandatory Closure Rule in Child Custody Cases Predicated on Parental Abuse

NCJ Number
Pacific Law Journal Volume: 15 Issue: 1 Dated: (October 1983) Pages: 83-107
M Lachuk
Date Published
25 pages
Following an examination of the traditional open trial policy and the public interests it is meant to serve, this paper critically examines California's practice of denying public access to child custody cases involving child abuse and neglect.
Deeply embedded in common law traditions, the open trial policy is applicable to both criminal and civil cases. In two recent cases, the U.S. Supreme Court held that any order denying public access to criminal trials must be justified by an overriding policy or State interest and that the closure order must be tailored to serve the State interest. Public interests in open trial include the fair and effective administration of justice and preservation of the first amendment right to attend trials. Under the California statute, the only exceptions to mandatory closure of child abuse-related custody cases are when public attendance is specifically requested by the parent or child or when other parties have a legitmate interest in the case. An examination of the competing interests suggests that denial of public access in these termination and dependency hearings is both unnecessary and unjustified. Trial judges always have discretionary authority to limit public access for the proper administration of justice or the protection of the parties. Thus, the present statutory scheme should be reformed. Included are 252 footnotes.


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