The Need for an Open Family Court

On the heels of the Delaware Family Court Task Force’s recommendations to the Legislature as to whether or not to open Family Court to public attendance, Delaware Law Weekly [recently] published an article, “Strine Opposes Opening Family Court in JFC Remarks.”

Authored by Jeff Mordock, the article reported that Delaware’s Supreme Court Chief Justice-designate Leo E. Strine Jr. expressed concern about opening Family Court hearings to the public; describing an open (public) family court “as part of a kind of public display…for public consumption”; that the possibility of “open litigation” in Delaware Family Court…with the intimate painful things of human life… this possibility makes Strine “really uncomfortable.”

What truly is uncomfortable is that historically, Delaware’s Family Court [are] closed to public attendance!

But Strine’s antiquated remarks made before the Joint Finance Committee on February 24th at Legislative Hall, happen to be contrary to the 2014 Valentine’s Day Family Court Proceedings and Public Access Report, recently prepared by Senate Attorney James G. McGiffin, Jr.

McGiffin’s report states that Delaware is [somewhat] unique in presuming that child custody and divorce cases are private (compared to other states).

The report documents that the United States Supreme Court has developed a line of cases…holding that the public MUST HAVE access to criminal trials, with limited exceptions and that several lower Federal and State courts find that civil cases should be treated similarly.” Also, that only an approach to divorce and child custody matters, that allows the Court to determine that barring public access serves an important or governmental interest in the LEAST restrictive manner, would be consistent with the question of Presumptively Public Courtrooms with Judicial Discretion to Bar the Public.

The seven-page report, in this 21st century, concludes that, “The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires that most trials are public matters…that Delaware’s tradition of private divorce and custody trials is likely vulnerable to a challenge similar to that which the Court on Chancery recently experience, in Delaware Coalition for Open Gov’t v. Leo E. Strine (894 F. Supp 2d 493, 500 (2012); Strine loosing his case, now appealing at the U.S. Supreme Court.

This McGiffin report should really matter to Strine and should play a significant role, too, in the Family Court Task Force’s own records of public testimonies over the years, with unjust judges [making] unfair decisions in Family Court’s closed courtrooms, unjustly changing Delawarean lives forever.

[The Report should also show] the Task Force’s own records of illegal games played in a culture of secretiveness in Delaware Family Court with glaring abuses of jurists in power in a private courtroom, as well as reports of jurists’ litigate-favoritism; turning a blind eye to witnesses-lying, then, with unreasonable discretionary limits, arbitrarily sealing records.

You hear it all the time, of this type of behavior in Delaware’s secret, private Family Court Courtrooms, which seem to work for the government, the kind of culture greeting us every day in the media, cultivated by privacy, and lack of openness.

But nobody is above the law! Strine’s plan [is to] keep the privacy in our Family Court instead of new ideas of public Family Court trials in an  open system and with the appearance of justice.

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