Family Court staff need more training, among task force findings

By Amy Cherry 3:04pm, October 10, 2013 - Updated 5:23pm, October 10, 2013
WDEL's Amy Cherry talks with Raetta McCall, a public member of the Blue Ribbon Task Force that's studying whether to open up Family Court.
A Blue Ribbon Task Force holds its first meeting on whether to open up proceedings in Delaware Family Court.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.

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Raetta McCall, a public member of the task force, says she's been told many times that she can't enter Protection from Abuse (PFA) hearings, one of the few proceedings that is actually open in Delaware Family Court.

To that, task force member and Family Court Chief Judge Chandlee Kuhn said during the meeting, "Sounds like I have a significant training issue."

"I'll go back and make sure that all of our staff are trained, and that is clear that they need to be following within the security boundaries what is presumptively open and what is presumptively closed," says Kuhn.

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She has issued an Administrative Directive, as promised, Thursday. The front page of the Delaware Family Court website now addresses the issue. This public document also addresses what proceedings are currently open and closed in Family Court.

Kuhn tells WDEL she doesn't view the needed staff training as a large undertaking, but calls it "significant for the public's trust."

McCall says she's satisfied, for now, and hopeful the directive would be followed.

"I would hope that it would be. I can't guarantee that because I believe that the information for open and closed court has been out there for eons and it wasn't followed then," says McCall.

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So far, the Task Force has voted to keep adoption and child welfare proceedings closed. They've moved to recommend opening up paternity cases to the public, but tabled cases of divorce and child custody to study what's being done in other states.

McCall believes all areas of Family Court should be open.

"There are some issues that I have heard from people with parental rights, and they felt that they were terminated, and they felt that they were terminated unjustly, so if there's nobody in there, then what do they have to go by? Because we only get one chance in that courtroom, and it changes your life," says McCall.

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Judge Kuhn cautions this is just the beginning of the discussion.

"I don't think anything is in stone as of yet. I think we are getting additional research in all of the areas," says Kuhn.

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Space issues were also discussed at this initial meeting of the Blue Ribbon Task Force.

"The Kent and Sussex courtrooms are not even large enough for all of the interested parties."

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But Kuhn admits, space can't be a factor in whether proceedings should be open or closed.

"I think the decision should be based upon what is in the best interest of the public, and then the space issues and security issues should be addressed from there," says Kuhn.

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Possible solutions that were discussed include video monitoring rooms when courtrooms are too small to accommodate the public.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force will meet at least twice more before making final recommendations to the General Assembly in February of next year.

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