LPS conservatorship hearings and juvenile dependency hearings have one thing in common. They are both almost always closed to the public. This means that the public cannot enter or watch a proceeding unless they are a party to the case or they have prior court approval. In both courts one must be either the main party or an approval family member to be able to attend.
For LPS conservatorship proceedings the primary reasoning is that the court system wishes to protect the patient's rights and by allowing the proceedings to be open to the public then the conservatee's privacy may be breeched.
In the realm of juvenile dependency court the court argues that the child is a minor and therefore any information regarding their legal status must be protected.
With juvenile dependency hearings this has garnered a great deal of unwanted attention and criticism as many believe that the court may be breeching best practice and by not allowing the public to observe they allow themselves to continue unchecked.
There are several issues with this that I would like to address...
First with LPS conservatorship, it should be allowed to be open to the public under certain circumstances. Take for example if legal students or nursing students need to prepare for the legal aspect of their training being able to attending a few hearings will help them see and hear what happens in a courtroom. There is a large difference between reading laws and codes and being able to sit in a courtroom and see how the judge and conservatees behave. It is important to see on average how long counsel has to prepare with the conservatee. By knowing the time limits, any potential counselor can learn how to scan a file, discuss, and prepare the most important issues. Also students can also learn what questions the conservatee tend to ask their counsel. All of this can prepare students to be the best advocates for their clients.
In the matter of dependency court, it is a harder line to draw since there will be very sensitive information being relayed during the hearing. Drug abuse, child abuse, and neglect may be discussed in detail. Should a student be allowed to attend these hearings, they should be privy to how short the proceedings are. They should observe how quick the jurisdiction hearings occur and how little time is allotted to the parent to defend the alleged abuse. It is important that they learn that more often than not the jurisdiction and the dispositional hearing occur at the same time.
Students should also learn how to deal with argumentative parties with both kinds of hearings. With LPS hearings they should learn how to effectively communicate with delusional or depressed conservatees. In the area of dependency court they should know how to calmly talk to parents who have had their children recently removed and thus very emotional. They need to be able to see the hearings and learn how to clearly describe what will happen at each one and what the parent should do to best advance their case.
In my opinion I also believe that students should get a feel for each of the different judges. Each judge will be known for a certain temperament and tendency to lean one way or another. By sitting in on hearings these students will be able to see how each judge rules and prepare them to litigate in a way that pleases a certain judge for future cases.
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