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State in Interest of B.J.W.

February 25, 1991

STATE IN THE INTEREST OF B.J.W., A JUVENILE


Herr, J.s.c.

Herr

This matter was opened to the Court by the attorneys for the Times of Trenton Publishing Corporation ("Times"), publisher of the TIMES, a daily newspaper with circulation in central and southern New Jersey, including Hunterdon County. The Times seeks an order permitting it to attend all court proceedings in this matter, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60(g) and R. 5:19-2(a). The motion is opposed by counsel for the juvenile. The Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office advises that the State of New Jersey neither joins in nor opposes the application but submits to the Court's discretion.

B.J.W., who was born January 20, 1975, is charged with committing two crimes which if perpetrated by an adult would be murder. The victims were her mother and her brother, who were killed on November 8, 1990, when B.J.W. was age 15. The Times submitted a certification with eight newspaper articles attached, several of which had bold headlines in letters exceeding one-half inch, and beginning on November 9, 1990, with one from the TRENTONIAN stating, "Girl, 15, held in stabbing, bludgeoning mom, brother." The articles include the name of this juvenile and her picture, apparently obtained from

school records, and several acquaintances of this juvenile and her family are quoted.

The most recent article supplied was dated November 28, 1990, wherein juvenile friends were depicted as keeping a "vigil" for B.J.W. The Times argues that this is already a highly-publicized case, that it is of great community concern, and that media access will not only promote the free press guarantees of the First Amendment to the United States and New Jersey Constitutions but "will eliminate unnecessary speculation, conjecture and rumor and promote public confidence in the juvenile justice system."

Furthermore, the Times argues that N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60(g) and R. 5:19-2(a) require public access because no specific harm to the juvenile can be demonstrated.

The Times is correct in stating that the standard to be followed in deciding this application is N.J.S.A. 2A:4A-60, which is entitled "Disclosure of juvenile information; penalties for disclosure." The basic premise of this statute is set forth in Paragraph (a). The first sentence of Paragraph (a) states:

Social, medical, psychological, legal and other records of the court and probation department, and records of law enforcement agencies, pertaining to juveniles charged as a delinquent or found to be part of a juvenile-family crisis, shall be strictly safeguarded from public inspection.

Thereafter follow several specific exceptions to the above-stated basic premise of non-disclosure. The application of the Times fits under subparagraph (g), which states:

The court may, upon application by the juvenile or his parent or guardian, the prosecutor or any other interested party, including the victim or complainant or members of the news media, permit public attendance during any court proceeding at a delinquency case, where it determines that a substantial likelihood that specific harm to the juvenile would not result.

There is no application by any of the possible applicants listed in the statute except the application by this one member of the news media. From a reading of the statute, I conclude that if I determine there is a substantial likelihood of specific harm for the ...


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