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Anyone seeking to open juvenile courts case by case in California can refer to two precedents. In 1978′s Brian W. v. Superior Court, 20 Cal.3d 618, the state Supreme Court urged juvenile courts to “actively encourage greater participation by the press.” And in 1991′s San Bernardino County Department of Public Social Services v. Superior Court, 232 Cal.App.3d 188, Riverside’s Fourth District Court of Appeal held that juvenile courts “should allow press access unless there is a reasonable likelihood that such access will be harmful to the child’s � best interest.” The San Bernardino case led to the Legislature’s 1999 enactment of California Welfare & Institutions Code � 346, which says juvenile court judges may admit anyone to hearings as long as they have a “direct and legitimate interest in the particular case or the work of the court.” Media lawyers invoked the work-of-the-court issue in convincing San Mateo County Supervising Juvenile Court Judge Marta Diaz to open the case of 8-month-old Angelo Marinda after the child was shaken to death by his father. “Seeing what happens in this proceeding,” Lisa Sitkin, a Steinhart & Falconer associate representing the San Francisco Chronicle, argued, “is part of understanding what that process is and being sure it’s operating correctly, and having the public know that it’s operating in a way that we can support and feel is appropriate in taking care of the children in our community.” But both Shannan Wilber, executive director of San Francisco’s Legal Services for Children, and Whittier Law School Professor William Patton scoff at the idea that permanently opening courts would result in any form of press coverage aimed at educating the public. “So far, in no jurisdiction, have we found that opening the courts has resulted in the public frequently attending the proceedings, nor has the press routinely attended proceedings,” Patton says. “Rather they’ve attended only high-profile cases and cases that deal mainly with celebrities or important parties. “The result has been that, rather than looking into the underlying problems of the system,” he continues, “the public is getting a distorted view of the system — much the way it got a distorted view of the criminal system in the coverage of the O.J. Simpson case.” The press also shows no sensitivity, Patton believes. He points to a 1999 New York Law Journal story that identified a developmentally delayed kindergartner and discussed a gynecological examination of her vagina and anus. There also was a 2002 story in the Tallahassee Democrat that named a 7-year-old who had gotten gonorrhea of the throat from his father. The naming of names in particular galls Wilber. “They may have some interest in the issue,” she says, “but they have absolutely no legitimate interest in the identity of the child. And if you think about it, who is the least powerful to control all of these things? The child!” Christina Zawisza, director of the Child Advocacy Clinic at the University of Memphis School of Law in Memphis, Tenn., agrees about keeping names confidential, but says the press is invaluable in keeping child care agencies in line. “In all the post-revelations [in cases], the department has hidden behind confidentiality,” she says, “and it has been the press that has gotten hold of stuff by going to court and litigating it [to be open].”

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