Judge closes court hearing for juvenile defendant
by Jessica Loeding
Jun 25, 2014 | 2952 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During a hearing Tuesday afternoon, Juvenile Court Associate Judge Jamie Averett granted a motion to close the dependency hearing for a defendant in a child molestation case.

The 13-year-old is one of two defendants charged as adults in the alleged aggravated child molestation of a 7-year-old boy while the three were residents at Advocates for Children’s Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter. The two defendants were arrested April 17 after the allegations surfaced the weekend prior when the victim’s mother learned of the accusations and called the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office.

The motion to close the hearing was filed by the teen’s guardian ad litem, Anna Johnson, who argued that under the Official Code of Georgia Annotated the hearing should be closed.

Johnson said the proceeding involved allegations of an act which, if done by an adult, would constitute a sexual offense under Chapter 6 of Title 16. That section of the code — O.C.G.A. 15-11-700(c)(a) — applied because of the pending charges of child molestation and aggravated child molestation.

She also cited O.C.G.A. 15-11-700(c)(2), which states the court may close the proceeding if it is in the best interest of the child after considering several factors, including the child’s right to privacy.

On Tuesday morning, The Daily Tribune News’ Managing Editor Jessica Loeding filed a motion to access the juvenile court hearing.

The paper argued Tuesday afternoon that the case was of public interest because the defendant is being tried as an adult, which will bring to light information through Superior Court criminal proceedings.

In the argument, Loeding also noted the paper had not disclosed the defendant’s identity and would abide by stipulations dictated by the court should the hearing be opened.

Lastly, the newspaper maintained information disclosed during proceedings could determine whether the Division of Family and Children Services and Flowering Branch were aware of the defendant’s mental illness diagnosis and whether his parents maintained he was a danger to others and should not be placed at the shelter.

During the hearing, the defendant’s mother also said she felt the proceeding should be open because it felt as though portions of the juvenile system were preventing information from being released.

Averett said she had made a “great effort to become intimately familiar” with juvenile court code changes effective in January. Prior to January, the option of the hearing being opened was not available.

The judge said she was concerned about the child’s right to privacy and did not want the case “tried in the local media,” adding she felt it would prevent reunification and rehabilitation of the family involved.

Additionally, Averett remarked on the amount of information disseminated by media, saying information that would require work for the District Attorney’s Office had been released.

“Discovery is not going to take place in the media,” Averett said.

According to the motion, “Having considered the above-factors, the Court finds as follows: The child has a pending criminal charge of a sexual nature in which he has been charged as an adult, and if convicted, he could be incarcerated for up to 25 years. The child’s right to privacy is paramount in this matter as allowing this proceeding to remain open could potentially jeopardize his constitutional right to defend the charges against him and impede this Court’s ability to reunify this family.”

Also Tuesday, Averett granted a motion to the defendant’s parents to gain access to transcripts from court proceedings on Nov. 18, 2013, and Dec. 11, 2013. The couple must hire a court reporter to transcribe the hearings as juvenile court keeps only audio recordings of proceedings. The information, Averett said, was strictly for the couple and was not to be released to any outside parties.

Requests to record the hearing made by The Daily Tribune News and WBHF AM 1450 also were denied because they were not filed within the proper timeline.