New York Family Courts Open to the Public
Recently, I wrote about the lack of openness in New York’s Family Courts; causal observers were barred from the courtrooms which were only accessible to the litigants and their attorneys.
The Office of Court Administration just issued a set of Guidelines for Family Court judges to ensure open access to the courts by the public and the press. The guidelines provide that:
• In a respectful manner, court staff may ask each person who seeks entrance to a courtroom if he or she is a party, witness or otherwise associated with a specific calendared case.
• A person who wishes to observe the proceedings will be permitted to sit in the courtroom subject to the limitations of courtroom capacity.
• Courtroom staff will inform the judge if there is a member of the press or an observer in the courtroom and whether or not he or she has any role in the case.
• When a case is called, the judge may advise the parties that there is an observer in the courtroom and ask if anyone has an objection.
• On a case-by-case basis, prior to ordering exclusion, the judge must make findings, based on supporting evidence, that the exclusion is warranted.
According to the New York Journal, “Judges are supposed to exclude the public only if the person is likely to cause a disruption, one of the parties objects for a compelling reason or when the protection of children requires that some or all observers be excluded from the courtroom."