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Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (right) made the right decision to open up Family Court.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman must ensure access

On June 18, 1997, New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman issued an order that began with these words: "The Family Court is open to the public."

And so ended 35 years of secrecy as the doors of the court that handles juvenile crime, decides child custody and oversees foster care placements, among many other critical duties, officially swung open.

Kaye and Lippman went with sunlight after the Daily News vigorously fought for access — arguing, correctly, that the state Constitution grants all New Yorkers the right to observe all their courts in action.


It was clear then that secrecy had harmed the court, most visibly in the atrocious physical condition of its facilities. Worse, when child abuse matters erupted into the news, the press and public had limited ability to check whether the court had made potentially fatal blunders.

Yesterday, because far too many judges prefer to be exempt from scrutiny, Lippman, now elevated to chief judge, was compelled to command his Family Court colleagues to welcome the public into courtrooms.

The New York Times did a service in comprehensively surveying Family Court access. The paper's reporter sought to enter 40 courtrooms and was barred 35 times, often unceremoniously and in violation

of clearly printed rules of operation.

Said Lippman:

"Fourteen years ago, the Daily News was at the forefront of the effort to open Family Court to the public. . . . I am greatly disturbed that so many years later, in so many instances, Family Courts are not following the letter and spirit of the law."

Lippman directed all levels of court personnel, from judges on down, to make sure the openness decree is followed, as "the transparency and integrity of the court process is vital to ensuring public trust and confidence."

Exactly.

There was a matter of high public interest yesterday in Manhattan Family Court. The two boys accused of pushing a Target shopping cart off the upper level at Harlem's East River Plaza Mall — and critically in

iuring Marion Hedges — were there. One pleaded guilty and was sentenced to juvenile detention; one had his case adjourned.

You know that because the court was open for observation. As it must remain.

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