Thursday, February 16, 2012

Foster care in Los Angeles: The courts stay open – for now

UPDATE: WitnessLA has a good take on the appeals court decision here.

            An appeals court has refused to close Los Angeles County courts hearing cases alleging child abuse and neglect just days after they were opened by Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash, according to the Los Angeles Times.  At the same time, one of the best recent essays in support of keeping these hearings open appears today in Pasadena Weekly.

            Although the ruling was only two sentences, the reasoning is important: The groups that tried to close the courts again have the contracts to provide representation for children and parents.  The appeals court ruled that they have no “standing” to challenge the ruling because open courts don’t do the lawyers any harm.  (Actually, one could argue that open courts do these lawyers a lot of harm because they reveal the pathetic excuse for “representation” that they provide – but that’s not an argument they’re likely to make on appeal.)

            In any event, the appeals court ruled that open courts can’t be challenged until that challenge is brought by someone who actually claims to have been harmed by open courts.  Given that the record all over the country has been that the fears of such harm have proven groundless, that’s likely to be a very high bar.

            Of course it’s impossible to guarantee that no child ever will be harmed by an open court hearing.  But we know that thousands of children are harmed every day when the hearings are closed – sometimes the harm even can be fatal, if a bad decision leads to the death of a child.  So, as I’ve noted before, while it’s impossible to guarantee that no child ever will be embarrassed by open courts, the odds are if courts are open the quality of everyone’s work will improve – and more children will live long enough to blush.