Professor William Wesley Patton and the Whittier Law School Legal Policy Clinic recently helped restore confidentiality rights to more than 45,000 abused and neglected children who must appear in the Los Angeles County Dependency Courts. The Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Courts had issued a blanket court order that allowed reporters into child abuse hearings. Professor Patton helped convince the California Court of Appeal that the blanket order violated those child victims’ rights to confidentiality.
In a recent trial, a severely abused child objected to having a reporter from the Los Angeles Times in her child abuse hearing. She wanted to tell the trial judge why she needed a confidential hearing. The trial court, citing the blanket order, refused to let the abused child discuss her fears of media attendance outside the presence of the Times. The blanket order put the burden onto the abused child to prove that she would be injured by having reporters present.
A brief was filed by the Whittier Law School Legal Policy Clinic in support of child victims’ confidentiality rights. On March 3, 2014, the Court of Appeal agreed with the brief. The Court found that the blanket order violates California law and the Legislature’s intent.
This opinion will have a dramatic impact on the more than 45,000 abused and neglected children who will now have protection from the media learning about the children’s confidential medical, mental health, and education records. The confidentiality protection will encourage the child victims to attend their hearings and participate in the court processes which can lead to their quicker healing and empowerment.