In wake of murdered taxi driver, Ky. legislators to renew push f - WDRB 41 Louisville News

In wake of murdered taxi driver, Ky. legislators to renew push for open juvenile court records

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The doors remain closed on the juvenile court system even though a bill came close to opening some records last session. The doors remain closed on the juvenile court system even though a bill came close to opening some records last session.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Three teens are charged in the murder of a taxi cab driver, but we don't know their identities -- or anything else that might go on in court. 

It is one example of how opening up family and juvenile court would provide transparency, which some are again pursuing. Senate Bill 157 came extremely close to passing during the last legislative session, and it will be pushed for again for the upcoming session in January.

"We think it is time that this cloak of secrecy drop off the family courts and juvenile courts in this state," said Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell. He says opening up family and juvenile courts is in the best interest of the public.

O'Connell says it would help make sure cases are being handled appropriately by the judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and beyond. "It's holding everybody accountable. There is a need for transparency and sunlight on these proceedings."

O'Connell says protecting children is paramount, but sometimes it backfires. "When you talk about closing family courts, what you end up doing often times in there is protecting the perpetrator. Especially in a neglect abuse and dependency case you end up protecting the perpetrator."

Three teens, ages 15, 16, and 17 were charged this week for the murder of a taxi cab driver in Newburg. It is a serious case, but the media cannot be in on any court proceedings until it is likely moved to circuit court. 

"There is no way anyone other than those affiliated with the court and that proceeding can be in there to watch, observe," says O'Connell.

The proposed law would start a pilot program to test out open court in several jurisdictions. Only certain cases would be included like dependency, neglect and abuse proceedings, termination of parental rights, and cases where a child is at least 14 and charged with a felony. 

The county attorney's office says it would support a broader range after the pilot program if it becomes law.

Kentucky is in the minority as at least 38 states have some type of open family and juvenile court system. "We've heard that any state that has gone to open courts and family juvenile courts, there's no move to go back," says O'Connell. 

After the pilot project runs for four years, data would be looked at to determine if permanent legislation should go into effect or if the pilot program should be extended.

The proposal has a lot of support but still needs a sponsor. The legislative session begins in January.

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