FRANKFORT, Ky., March 16, 2018 – For the first time in Kentucky, some child protection cases will be open to the public under a four-year pilot project that will take place 2018-2021. The Supreme Court of Kentucky issued an order March 13 authorizing the Open Court Pilot Project. In 2018, Family Courts will be open from March 19-May 31 in Hopkins and Jefferson counties and the four-county judicial circuit of Harrison, Nicholas, Pendleton and Robertson.
Although child protection cases are normally closed due to confidentiality, the pilot project will provide an opportunity to look at whether it’s beneficial to open some cases for the public to observe. The public and media will be able to attend proceedings in cases involving child dependency, neglect and abuse, and termination of parental rights. Judges in the first six counties to participate in the pilot project volunteered to open their courts for a two-month observation/evaluation period.
The 2016 Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation asking the Supreme Court to institute a pilot project to study open courts. The project is covered in KRS 21A.190-192.
“I’ve long been in favor of opening courts when there are benefits to be gained in accountability and transparency,” Chief Justice of Kentucky John D. Minton Jr. said. “Kentucky has been discussing opening child protection cases for several years, and I look forward to seeing what we learn from this pilot project. I appreciate the judges in the pilot counties, who are as invested as I am in determining how to balance the public’s need to know with the child’s need for privacy.”
Parents and other parties and professionals involved in the proceedings, such as attorneys and social workers, will be asked to complete a survey about their experience with open court. Reporters will also have the opportunity to take a survey.
Signs outside the Family Court Courtrooms will give the public information about the pilot project and the rules for participating. Those who attend proceedings are prohibited from recording audio or video and taking photos, taking notes with the name or personal information of any minor child who is a party or witness unless the name/information was obtained outside of court, getting copies of any documents or court recordings, and sharing the name or personal information of any party or witness unless they are discussing it with another party or witness in the case or unless they obtained the information outside of court.
Media outlets must adhere to the same rules as the public. The media may report on cases that take place in open court but may not record audio or video or take photos, take notes with the name or personal information of any minor child who is a party or witness unless the name/information was obtained outside of court, get copies of any documents or court recordings or share the name or personal information of any party or witness unless they are discussing with another party or witness in the case or unless they obtained the information outside of court. In the context of the pilot project, the definition of party includes the child, the child’s parents and/or custodian and the social service worker.
A judge may close proceedings if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child or for other good cause. The procedure for closing a case during the pilot project is described in KRS 21A.190(2). All cases involving sexual abuse will be closed.
The Department of Family and Juvenile Services at the Administrative Office of the Courts is administering the pilot project. Court staff will attend court proceedings to observe and will conduct focus groups with family members and professionals involved in the cases. They will also provide surveys to participants. The AOC will report to the legislature annually on the project.
Family Court Case Schedule
The schedules for Family Courts participating in the Open Court Pilot Project are:
Jefferson County – 8:30 a.m. ET Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Jefferson County Judicial Center, 700 W. Jefferson St., Louisville
Hopkins County – 9 a.m. CT Tuesday, Hopkins County Justice Center, 120 E. Center St., Madisonville
Harrison County – 1:30 p.m. ET on the first and third Wednesday of the month, Harrison County Justice Center, 115 Court St., Cynthiana
Nicholas County – 1 p.m. ET on the first and third Tuesday of the month, Nicholas County Courthouse, 125 E. Main St., Carlisle
Pendleton County – 10 a.m. ET on the first and third Tuesday of the month, Pendleton County Judicial Center, 120 Ridgeway Ave., Falmouth
Robertson County – 10 a.m. ET on the first and third Tuesday of the month, Robertson County Judicial Center, 127 E. Walnut St., Mount Olivet
Administrative Office of the Courts
The AOC is the operations arm for the state court system and supports the activities of nearly 3,300 employees and 404 elected justices, judges and circuit court clerks. The AOC also executes the Judicial Branch budget.