At the invitation of the Missouri Supreme Court, St. Louis Family Court Judge Thomas Frawley will allow the public to view a wide range of once-confidential hearings, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The two-year experiment will test the premise that outside scrutiny will encourage accountability in the foster care system. Other courts throughout the state may join the pilot program. Illinois allows members of the media to sit in family court hearings, but not the public.
The idea of opening hearings has spread after the the death of a Springfield, Mo., youngster. Some parents have complained of hostile judges and a judicial system with little regard for due process. “The possibility of the press coming in at random may keep the system on its toes,” Frawley said.
Other judges say open hearings would produce little public benefit at the cost of invading the privacy of child victims. Clay County Circuit Judge James Welsh said, “I don’t need their friends and neighbors coming in to see these families’ cases.”
The St. Louis experiment will include various conditions to protect children, including closing the court when a child testifies, asking ther media not to identify children involved in cases, and allowing participants to ask for a closed hearing if they can show that an open hearing would harm the child.