Louisville judge opens confidential family court hearing involving foster children to public, media as part of new law
Attorneys argue that Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services has left children in foster care for months rather than let them live with a family member.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A Jefferson Family Court judge has ordered that a previously confidential hearing involving foster care children be opened to the public and media as part of a new law passed this year to allow for more transparency and accountability in the state judicial system.
Judge Judith Bartholomew on Wednesday ordered that the public be allowed to attend an Aug. 24 hearing about whether several children should remain in foster care instead of going to live with a family member.
Attorney John Helmers and Chris Harrell, who represent the children against the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, said they believe it is the first time a family court judge has opened a confidential family court case since the passage of Senate Bill 40.
The bill authorized a minimum of three family courts to volunteer to open proceedings as part of a four-year pilot project.
Family Court judges hear cases involving child custody, abuse, neglect, dependency, termination of parental rights and divorce proceedings.
Typically, any case involving a juvenile is closed to the public.
Helmers and Harrell argued the cabinet has spent "tens of thousands of dollars for foster care" and placed these children with strangers for seven months rather than let them live with a "loving family member."
The two attorneys argued that while such family court hearings are typically closed to protect the juveniles, in this instance "secrecy would protect CHFS or other officials."
In an interview, Harrell said this case "is a perfect example of the reason this is a good law. The problem in this case is government red tape. We can beat our heads against the wall in court, which is what we have been doing, but until people in the public get upset about it and know what is going on, there is no way to change it."
A cabinet spokeswoman declined to comment on the case or whether they would appeal the judge's order.
The juveniles believe "openness will protect them," Helmers and Harrell argued in an Aug. 11 motion.
"These delays are of interest to the public and the Children should not be permitted to languish in foster care while the state bureaucracies have been utterly ineffective," Helmers and Harrell wrote in their motion.
The five juveniles are not named in the motion and the attorneys asked the judge to not permit the media to identify them.
Bartholomew prohibited the media from naming the children in her one-page order.
The law to open some family court hearings took effect on July 15. The state Administrative Office of the Courts will monitor the program and provide an annual report on findings and recommendations.
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