Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Sixth Circuit Dismisses Challenge Barring Access to Juvenile Court Proceedings as "Unripe"

The Sixth Circuit has dismissed the Kentucky Press Association's claim that its "First Amendment right of access to court proceedings" were violated by the state of Kentucky pursuant to various state statutes, saying that the KPA must first challenge the statutes in state court.

The statutes, which are part of the Kentucky Uniform Juvenile Code, provide that "[t]he general public shall be excluded" from juvenile hearings, and allow[s] access only to the immediate families of parties before the court, and such other persons as agreed to by the child and his attorney." Other Code sections provide for privacy of court and medical records, sealing of records, and continued confidentiality of records. KPA "maintained in the district court that these provisions, on their face, violate KPA's First Amendment right of access to juvenile proceedings, as first established in Richmond Newspapers...". The district court rejected this argument but accepted that "it was appropriate to address KPA's constitutional claim on its merits...". "[T]he district court found that KPA had failed to establish a right of access to juvenile proceedings under the "experience and logic" test of Richmond Newspapers and its progeny and dismissed the complaint."

The Sixth Circuit proceeded to analyze the case by examining whether it had jurisdiction. It concluded, "...we are convinced that KPA's FIrst Amendment claim is not sufficiently ripe for federal court adjudication. Ripeness is a justificiability doctrine designed "to prevent the courts, through premature adjudication, from entangling themselves in abstract disagreements.".... We find that KPA's claim that the KUJC denies the media any access...fails to satisfy each of the three prongs of the ripeness inquiry. First, that the Kentucky courts would deny KPA the access it seeks is far from certain....Neither does KPA meet the other two prongs of the test....[T]here is one fact of crucial importance that has yet to be determined: whether Kentucky law, as interpreted by the Kentucky courts, completely closes juvenile proceedings and records to the media....And finally, we perceive little hardship to KPA in our dismissing its case at this time...."

Read the entire opinion here.

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