In Theory, NY Family Courts Are Open; In Practice, They Aren’t


New York State's Family Courts, ordered opened to the public in 1997, remain largely closed by a defiant system, reports the New York Times. The courts hear hundreds of thousands of cases of domestic violence, foster care and child neglect each year. Visits to the courts across New York City revealed officials and security officers routinely disregarding the open-courts rule. Some courtrooms were locked, and many were marked with “stop” and “do not enter” signs.

Court officers stationed at courtroom doors repeatedly barred a visitor. During one week in particular, a reporter tried to enter 40 courtrooms in the city's five Family Courts as a member of the public or a civic group monitoring the courts would. Entry was permitted to only five of the courtrooms, some where no case was under way — a closing rate of nearly 90 percent. In those cases, the reporter did not identify himself. In other instances, officials insisted that, even for reporters, free access to courtrooms was not permitted.

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