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Media granted access to baby sitter's hearing for early release

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         FLORIDA         Secret Courts         Dec 10, 2002    

Media granted access to baby sitter’s hearing for early release

  • Judge denies defendant’s request to close juvenile hearing traditionally open to the public.

After serving 2-1/2 years in a juvenile detention facility for killing a 3-year-old girl while baby-sitting, Sarah Sciandra, 17, will not have a closed hearing in her request for early release, ruled Collier County Judge Lawrence Martin.

Martin’s ruling that the press and public could attend Sciandra’s Dec. 9 hearing was not surprising. Unlike many other states, Florida’s juvenile courts are open to the public.

Media organizations, including the Naples Daily News, the Fort Myers News-Press, WBBH-TV and WZVN-TV, opposed Sciandra’s request for a closed hearing.

While Martin ruled in favor of the media, he reserved the right to close the hearing if the press disrupted proceedings or highly sensitive matters arose that warranted closure.

“Defendant’s counsel did not demonstrate that those special circumstances existed,” said Steven Carta, counsel for the News-Press, WBBH-TV and WZVN-TV.

“Juveniles today aren’t the same as they were 50 years ago. They are committing much more serious crimes,” Carta explained. “While society has an obligation to juveniles and to protect them, there is also an obligation to the public-at-large to let them know what is going on.”

Even though Florida’s juvenile courts are open to the public, juvenile case files are sealed. Juvenile courts will not give out any information about when a particular case will be heard, the substance of the hearings, the attorneys of record, or any other information kept in case files. Journalists seeking to attend a juvenile hearing must obtain such information from the parties, attorneys or sources other than the court.

(Florida v. Sciandra; Media counsel: Steven Carta, Simpson, Henderson, Carta & Randolph, Fort Myers) ST

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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