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Court mandates closed parental termination hearings

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    NMU         FLORIDA         Secret Courts         Mar 1, 2001    

Court mandates closed parental termination hearings

  • The state Supreme Court held that there is no right to a public hearing in a proceeding to terminate a parent’s rights and permanently remove a child, finding that the safety of the child and the interest in avoiding publicity outweigh any public or parental interest.

The Florida Supreme Court on Feb. 22 affirmed a state statute that requires Florida courts to close hearings involving parental rights.

The case involved the parental rights of Kathy Bush, who allegedly suffered from Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The state alleged that she made her daughter Jennifer sick in order to get attention. Jennifer has been taken from her mother and placed with relatives.

Bush wanted her parental rights hearing to be open to the public, but the state objected.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional right to a presumptively open hearing. It distinguished hearings related to juveniles from criminal proceedings by noting that the purpose of juvenile hearings is to protect the interests of children, not punish individuals with criminal sanctions. The safety of the child was the paramount interest, the court held; a parental rights termination hearing is not a criminal proceeding, nor is the parent being punished, even though it might seem that way to the parent.

The court also ruled that, without exception, the necessity of protecting the child from publicity outweighs any public right of access to court proceedings.

Bush’s attorney told reporters that Bush would appeal the determination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

(The Natural Parents of J.B. v. Florida Dept. of Children & Family Services; Petitioner’s Counsel: Bruce Rogow, Fort Lauderdale) AG


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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