Kentucky’s newspapers have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to open the state’s juvenile courts, arguing that the laws keeping them closed are unconstitutional, reports the Louisville Courier-Journal. Juvenile courts – which include criminal proceedings, truancy, and cases of abuse and neglect of children – have been closed to the public for about two decades under state laws. The lawsuit asserts that state laws deprive newspapers of “their First Amendment rights to gather and publish news” and denies the public its “right of access to information.”
“One of the things we’re trying to do is to see if the courts are doing their job,” said David Thompson, executive director of the state press association, whose members include The Courier-Journal. “We can’t do that if we don’t get any information.” More than 20 states allow full or partial access to juvenile court proceedings, said Barbara White Stack of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “As an advocate, I would see this as a double-edged sword,” said Debra Miller of Kentucky Youth Advocates. “On the one hand, we know that public pressure and exposure is sometimes the way reforms happen. We also know that kids and families get labeled.” Pete Schuler, chief public defender in Jefferson County, who represents children charged with crimes, said he opposes completely opening juvenile court because children benefit from the privacy and the less formal setting.