Delaware has a responsibility toward full and good transparency in Family Court, which hasn’t met the bar yet.
Recently the Delaware Family Court Blue Ribbon Task Force, mandated by the Delaware General Assembly, released its recommendations on “openness” and “transparency” in Delaware Family Court proceedings.
The Task Force concluded, with a recommendation to the Delaware Legislature, to continue the presumptively closed Family Court (the public and the press not invited to attend the hearings), with the exception of divorce and property division cases. (These cases are recommended to become presumptively open, with a presiding judge having the right to close.)
I find these recommendations to be harmful to the public.
During the Task Force 2013-14 meetings, the media captured some citizens testifying and crying out for public access into Family Court…to “let them in!” And at the meetings, the public, sometimes outraged and frustrated with lack of transparency in Family Court, alleged that Court’s judgments favor the wealthy and powerful in Delaware.
At the meetings, the Task Force members, with the exception of the Family Court chief judge, had a fear of the unknown – a fear as to what will happen in making any changes to Family Court’s secret courtrooms, in changing them into open courtrooms, with full access to its citizens.
Secret courtrooms are like political courts and having no real obligation to the public. The public is not even given the right to walk in the front door and are doomed to “hear no evil and see no evil”!
Opponents of “transparency” and “openness” say that the public won’t understand the legal mumbo-jumbo in an open courtroom, if we give the public more information with public attendance into our Family Court.
On the other hand, “open government” advocates say that secret courtrooms are a cultural issue in Delaware and have a long history of being engrained in the “Delaware Way.”
If Delaware legislators, in this political environment, concur with the Task Force’s limited transparency recommendations for Family Court, Delaware might continue to be a state that is out of sync with other states with regard to transparency. Also, if legislators accept the recommendations, some sunlight will shine in the courtroom, but will it be enough to disinfect the alleged corruption of the Court and restore public confidence in the Delaware family court system?
Family Court is supposed to be open to the public – ALL the courtrooms, not just a few of the cases, and per our state constitution. Access belongs to the general public!
Delaware, there is a different way to do this! Try to envision an entire presumptively open Delaware Family Court, like other states in our union, and with the judge’s right to close. It is not too late for our legal branch and our legislators, after some folk being suspicious of “openness,” to now vote and become ENTHUSIASTIC about having FULL TRANSPARENCY in our Delaware Family Court!