F & F Supports Bill to Open Dependency Court Hearings to the Public

Mike Feuer, head of the Assembly Judiciary Committee and sponsor of CA AB 73.

Fathers and Families and its legislative representative Michael Robinson have long campaigned for reform of dependency court and child protective services.

In 2007 we publicized the outrageous Melinda Smith case, in which a San Diego father and daughter were needlessly separated by the foster care system for over a decade–to learn more, see our co-authored column Choosing Foster Parents over Fathers (San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/11/07).

That year we also launched a successful national protest campaign against the Florida Department of Children & Families’ deplorable mistreatment of father Rafael Izquierdo in the highly-publicized “Elian Gonzalez II Case.” After a long fight against an agency accustomed to running roughshod over the rights of both fathers and mothers, Izquierdo was given sole custody of his 6-year-old daughter.

F & F Board Chair Ned Holstein, M.D., M.S. meets with embattled Cuban father Rafael Izquierdo during our 'Elian II' campaign.

One of the reasons why these types of injustices occur is that in most states, dependency court proceedings are closed to the public and the media. Since 2005, Robinson, many other advocates, and concerned parties have lobbied California lawmakers, staffers, and members of the Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees to increase transparency in dependency court proceedings.

Now these efforts are coming to fruition with AB 73, sponsored by California Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles), head of the Assembly Judiciary Committee. In Attempt under way to open up courts that deal with child abuse cases (Capitol Weekly, 3/01/11), reporter Malcolm Maclachlan explains:

AB 73 would make these [dependency court] proceedings “presumptively open,’ meaning the public would have access unless a judge made a decision to close them.

The rationale for having closed courts is to protect vulnerable children. But Feuer said that his bill would allow for judges to close courtrooms in cases where the child could be put at risk, such as from an abusive parent who no longer has custody.

“An open system will hold participants in it much more accountable,’ Feuer said. “That will safeguard the kids and integrity of the process.’

In 2002, Minnesota moved to presumptively open dependency courts, and a recent study of that move’s outcome showed that it did not have a negative impact on children. According to Maclachlan, the study also found that “more open courts didn”t discourage people from reporting abuse, compromise reunification efforts, lead to more adversarial cases, or increase court costs.”

To learn more about AB 73, click here.

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