Appeals court rules in favor of the press in juvenile hearings

Posted Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014  comments  Print Reprints

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In the case of a juvenile offender who is 14 or older, the Texas Family Code says the court proceedings are to be open to the public — and therefore the press — “unless the court, for good cause shown, determines that the public should be excluded.”

In January, District Judge Jean Boyd twice closed hearings for a boy, 16, charged in a capital murder case.

The first court proceeding was to determine whether to certify the accused as an adult; the second hearing was one in which the young man pleaded guilty to killing a 17-year-old acquaintance and was sentenced to 26 years behind bars.

At the time, the judge gave no reasons for her actions, which drew strong objections from the district attorney’s office, the Star-Telegram and other area news media.

Boyd also declined to release hearing transcripts.

This newspaper, joined by The Dallas Morning News and four television stations, filed a petition with the 2nd Court of Appeals saying that the judge had abused her discretion by closing the proceedings over the state’s objections, with no request from the defendant and without conducting a hearing to determining if there was “good cause” to do so.

Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the appeals court ruled unanimously in favor of the media group, ordering Boyd to vacate her two closure orders and to make transcripts of the two hearings available to the press.

The judges found that Boyd had abused her discretion by not following the Family Code, which requires “some evidence in the record supportive of a good-cause finding that the public be excluded.”

The role of the juvenile justice system by design leans more toward rehabilitation than harsh punishment.

The judge has a duty to do what is best for the youth.

The ruling by the 2nd Court of Appeals does not prevent that from happening.

It simply affirms that a judge has to present good reason before closing any proceedings to the public.

That’s a fair ruling.

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