RESOLUTION OF THE PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION SUPPORTING PUBLIC ACCESS TO DOMESTIC RELATIONS COURTROOM PROCEEDINGS IN PHILADELPHIA FAMILY COURT
WHEREAS, the presumption of open court proceedings is well-established as an essential element of justice in Pennsylvania common law under Article I, § 11 of the Pennsylvania Constitution ("All courts shall be open.") and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution;
WHEREAS, the public right of access to civil trials enhances the quality of justice dispensed by officers of the court, thus contributing to the fair administration of justice and to greater public understanding and confidence in the judicial system;
WHEREAS, lack of representation in the vast majority of domestic relations courtroom proceedings in Philadelphia Family Court heightens the need for public awareness;
WHEREAS, parties to a proceedings may benefit from having the assistance of other persons accompanying them to a court hearing, and such assistance is authorized in some instances by state and local rule;
WHEREAS, the opportunity for lawyers to observe courtroom proceedings in which they do not represent a party is necessary to provide essential training to lawyers, which training benefits clients;
WHEREAS, in other types of proceedings, the public is excluded routinely from the courtroom only in rare instances, such as the partial statutory exclusion of persons with no interest in the proceedings under the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa.C.S. § 6336(d);
WHEREAS, the parties to a particular proceeding may seek to rebut the presumption of open hearings by showing good cause and courts should retain inherent authority to close proceedings on a case-by-case basis upon a specific demonstration that closure is necessary to prevent a clearly defined and serious injury to the party seeking it;
WHEREAS, the practice in Philadelphia Family Court has been to have all domestic relations courtroom proceedings closed to all persons except the parties to the proceeding and their counsel;
WHEREAS, Philadelphia is unique in the Commonwealth in its practice of having domestic relations courtroom proceedings closed to the public;
WHEREAS, space and safety concerns will have to be addressed in opening domestic relations courtroom proceedings;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Philadelphia Bar Association hereby:
1. Expresses strong support for opening domestic relations courtroom proceedings in Philadelphia to the public.
2. Requests the Administrative Judge of the Philadelphia Family Court to adopt and implement as soon as practicable an administrative order that provides that all Domestic Relations courtroom proceedings are open to the public except, as determined on a case-by-case basis, where a party seeking closure demonstrates good cause.
3. Agrees to work with the Family Court Administration in addressing space and safety concerns.
4. Authorizes and directs the Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association to take whatever steps are necessary to effectuate this resolution.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: AUGUST 3, 2000