ANNAPOLIS – In a strong show of support for a new law that opens up serious juvenile court cases to the public, the rules committee for the Maryland Court of Appeals Friday decided to recommend that Maryland courts daily post a public calendar naming the accused and giving other facts.
The committee, which considers changes to rules governing court proceedings and then advises the state’s highest court, said the rules should indicate that the date, time, location and name of respondent in a public hearing “are not confidential.” Court clerks also should be required to prepare for the public a list of these facts “prior to the convening of court each day.”
The new law went into effect Oct. 1, opening juvenile court cases that would be considered felonies if they were tried in adult court. A judge still can close the case, however, if he finds there is a “good cause” for doing so.
Alice Neff Lucan, an attorney for the Maryland Delaware District of Columbia Press Association, applauded the committee’s recommendation, which she said faithfully followed the General Assembly’s intentions in enacting the new law.
“It’s clear that the Legislature intended to cast some sunshine on cases that would be felonies” if they applied to adults, she said. The recommendations advance “presumptions of openness that didn’t exist before,” she added.
David Addison, a lawyer with the Baltimore City public defender’s office who regularly represents juveniles, was concerned that the rule would make his clients less willing to explain their cases in court under the scrutiny of the media. On the whole, however, he thought public attention would be minimal.
“I don’t think there will be as much interest as people are led to believe by news coverage,” he said. “I don’t think any of the papers came to court after October 1st,” when the law came into effect.
But Edward S. Casey, the executive editor of The (Annapolis) Capital, which has given the juvenile courts heavy coverage since October 1st, thinks plenty of his readers are interested in knowing the names of serious juvenile offenders.
“We did a story just yesterday about a kid that went into school with a gun,” he said. “I think the mothers and fathers would want to know about that.”
The committee also rejected a proposal by Lucan to require courts to give advance notice if they intend to close a juvenile hearing so others, notably the press, can object. Committee Chairman Joseph F. Murphy expressed concern that an advance notice rule would tie the hands of judges who need to close proceedings on short notice to protect those involved.
The rule would be “too oppressive a sanction on judges,” he said. Besides, he argued, “as long as [reporters] have a means to acquire the information, [i.e.] the prosecutor,” they still can act to stop the cloture. The rules committee, composed of Maryland judges, legislators, lawyers and court officials, is expected to present its formal recommendations to the Court of Appeals within the next few weeks. -30-