The right of a natural parent, who was applicant for the involuntary civil commitment of her 13-year-old daughter, to obtain through counsel access to the court records and the hospital reports declared confidential by both statute, N.J.S.A. 30:4-24.3 and by rule of court, R. 4:74-7(i), is the issue presented by her motion, which is resisted by the guardian ad litem and attorney for the minor, and by the Attorney General. More specifically, the parent's counsel moves for (1) an order to inspect any and all court documents and records in the matter; (2) for an order to compel Trenton Psychiatric Hospital to release information, and (3) for an order setting a date for review of the commitment.
The regularity of the involuntary civil commitment proceedings is not challenged. Upon application of Mrs. Patricia Paterson, supported by the certificates of two licensed physicians, an order of temporary commitment of her 13-year-old daughter, J.C.G., to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital
was entered March 30, 1976. As provided by the applicable rule, the judge appointed a guardian ad litem who is also an attorney-at-law, Marie A. Clemente-Clegg, and also fixed the date for a commitment hearing on April 9, 1976. R. 4:74-7 (j). At the hearing Mrs. Paterson testified. It will suffice for the purposes of this opinion to note that she expressed the desire that her daughter remain at the hospital. On the record established, the findings of this court were put on the record in support of an order of final commitment to the same hospital.
The reasons advanced by the parent in support of the motion are set forth in her certification, the relevant paragraphs of which are here quoted:
6. I fear that decisions concerning my daughter which will greatly affect her future have been made and will be made without my consent and without the benefit of my special perspective as the child's mother.
7. I also fear that the treatment and care that my daughter is presently receiving is not in her best interest. She has apparently declined and her condition aggravated during the period in which she has been in the costody (sic) of the Division of Youth and Family Services.
8. My desire, at this time, is that my daughter, J.G., will be released from confinement at the Trenton Psychiatric Hospital and that she be permitted to reside at home with her family while participating in an out-patient program for care and treatment.
At the argument counsel for Mrs. Paterson said he sought disclosure of the confidential records so that private physicians to be engaged by the parent could determine whether the treatment currently being rendered is proper. In opposition, the attorney and guardian ad litem for the minor argued that disclosure would not be in the best interests of the child. The Deputy Attorney General asserted in opposition that any information must come from the guardian ad litem who, under the law, is charged with safeguarding the best interests of the minor. The court reserved decision and directed the guardian ad litem to inquire into the modalities
of treatment and to submit a written report which was received by the court September 10, 1976.
Movant's initial request is for an order to permit her counsel to inspect any and all court records and documents on file in this matter. The provisions of R. 4:74-7(i), which remain unchanged by the amendments effective September 13, 1976, control ...