Appeals court rules federal juvenile court proceedings not always closed
PENNSYLVANIA — Federal juvenile court proceedings and records are not automatically closed by the Juvenile Delinquency Act, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) ruled in early July. The court held that district judges have authority to regulate access on a case-by-case basis.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Greensburg Tribune-Review sought access in April 1993 to the detention hearings of two juveniles charged with gang-related armed robberies of Pittsburgh area merchants.
U.S. District Judge William Standish in Pittsburgh closed the hearings on the ground that the Juvenile Delinquency Act mandates closure of all federal juvenile delinquency proceedings.
In late April, the Post Gazette and Tribune- Review filed motions to intervene in the cases, as well as a motion to open the records of the detention hearings and to hold all further proceedings in open court.
They argued that the act does not require closed proceedings and that the First Amendment requires the district court to make a discretional determination on the need for confidentiality on a case-by-case basis.
The government and juveniles argued that the act mandates closure of the proceedings and records.
The same day, Judge Standish granted the newspapers’ motions to intervene in the case but denied the motions to open the proceedings and unseal the records.
In May 1993, the newspapers appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3 Cir.). More than a year later, a three-judge panel unanimously reversed the lower court’s decision denying the media’s request for access.
Chief Judge Dolores Korman Sloviter said that a provision in the act that allows adjudication in a court that “may convene at any time and place within the district, in chambers or otherwise” suggests that judicial discretion is to include a decision regarding the availability and degree of public access.
The court also said it doubted that Congress found across-the-board closure of juvenile proceedings necessary to protect the interest of juveniles. “Rather, we think Congress left the delicate task of weighing the interest of the juvenile and the public to the informed discretion of the district judge in each case.”
The court sent the case back to the district court with instructions that any denial or limitation of access must be supported by factual findings related to the circumstances of the case.
The government has until August to request a rehearing.
(U.S. v. A.D. PG Publishing Co.; Media Counsel: W. Thomas McGough, Jr., Pittsburgh, Susan Yohe, Pittsburgh)