Del. Family Court Chief Judge receptive to openness

By Amy Cherry 7:16pm, January 7, 2014 - Updated 7:25pm, January 7, 2014
VIDEO: WDEL's Amy Cherry talks with Delaware Family Court Chief Judge Chandlee Kuhn.
The leader of Delaware's Family Court speaks out about the future as a task force gears up to recommend whether the court should open more proceedings to the public.

WDEL's Amy Cherry reports.

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For the first time, Chief Judge Chandlee Kuhn speaks out in support of a more open Family Court.

She says her votes to presumptively open divorce and custody proceedings prove it.

"Each area that has been voted on as a recommendation "presumed open" has come with deep thought, the children's best interest, and what fosters public trust and confidence," says Kuhn.

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Kuhn supports more transparency and openness, but with a judge's discretion.

"In particular instances where safety may be an issue or where intimidation of a witness may be an issue or where we're concerned for other issues related to the parties, we should have discretion to close," says Kuhn.

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Those issues don't include whether both parties in the dispute agree they would prefer their divorce or custody hearings be closed. Several task force members pointed out that would lead to legal challenges if the press was barred from these proceedings simply because both parties wanted their business to be kept private. Deputy Attorney General Patty Daily Lewis, who sits on the task force, suggested those couples try arbitration to avoid their "dirty laundry" being aired out.

Kuhn says, so far she's satisfied with the work the task force has done, despite a requested delay in final recommendations.

"It's hard not to be satisfied with a process that has included everyone who would like to be heard," she says.

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The recommendations, if implemented by the General Assembly, could lead to procedural changes in Family Court, but they'll adapt.

"Having lengthier hearings in the beginning to make sure that you're applying the new law in an accurate way. we also have the possibility of changing how we receive evidence so that private information remains private," she says.

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With more work ahead, the task force is asking the General Assembly for at least a one month reprieve from their February deadline in hopes of releasing their recommendations when lawmakers return from Easter break.

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