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Presiding judge prepares to open L.A. County dependency courts

November 8, 2011 |  1:20 pm

The presiding judge of Los Angeles County’s juvenile court is preparing to open proceedings for dependency court in an effort to improve accountability and transparency for a branch of the legal system that handles child abuse, child neglect and foster care placements.

Members of the media and the public are barred from entering dependency courtrooms without court permission, but Judge Michael Nash is proposing a blanket order that would make the hearings presumptively open unless someone objects and a judge chooses to close the hearing.

A similar effort to open juvenile courts in Sacramento failed earlier this year following objections by the union that represents social workers and some foster children. But Nash —an advocate of government transparency—believes that the courts can be opened without new legislation.

"There is a lot that is not good [in the dependency courts], and that's an understatement," Nash said earlier this year at a hearing in Sacramento on legislation that would have opened dependency courts. "Too many families do not get reunified ... too many children and families languish in the system for far too long. Someone might want to know why this is the case."

Before the order is made final, however, he is soliciting opinions from interested parties by the end of the month.

Janis Spire, executive director of the Alliance for Children's Rights, said her organization was supportive of Nash's order but hoped that it could be adjusted so that too much identifying information about children is not released, including last names and Social Security numbers.


Lawmakers told courts need to be open

Newton column: Foster care secrecy hurts kids

Foster care child dies after being returned to parents

-- Garrett Therolf

Photo: Judge Michael Nash in a 2005 file photo. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times