Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Court Rejects Challenge to Disclosure of Juvenile Court Record
Panel Says Molestation Victim’s Interest in Avoiding Trial Outweighs Minor’s Privacy Rights
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
A minor who molested a 7-year-old cannot rely on confidentiality to prevent disclosure of a recording of an interview between his victim and an investigator, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Affirming a trial court’s order, Div. Three, in an opinion released yesterday, held the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered the tape released subject to a protective order after balancing the parties’ interests.
The minor, identified as R.S., pled guilty in December 2007 to performing lewd acts on the victim, identified as M.L. The victim’s parents subsequently threatened suit against the minor and this parents.
The victim’s attorney, John A. Rosenbaum of Laguna Hills, attempted to negotiate a settlement with the insurer, but moved for the tape’s release from the minor’s juvenile court file after the insurer allegedly refused to pursue further negotiations until it could view the recording.
The minor opposed the motion, arguing that no good cause existed to justify the tape’s release, that the information it contained was capable of being obtained from other sources, and that disclosure would not only affect his future employment and college aspirations, but also “severely retrogress [his] ability to interact socially.”
He further argued that the tape should not be disclosed because no legal action was pending against him by the victim.
Reasoning that the victim’s interest in avoiding publicity and a traumatic trial outweighed the minor’s privacy rights, Orange Superior Court Temporary Judge Julian W. Bailey granted the victim’s request. He told the parties he was “kind of at a loss to see how I can deny the parents’ rights to an interview of their own child.”
But Bailey also issued a protective order prohibiting the parties from making any copies of the tape, and which granted custody of the recording to Rosenbaum and required the insurer to travel to Rosenbaum’s office to view the tape before the tape’s return to the court.
The minor sought to compel the trial court to vacate its judgment, but Justice Kathleen O’Leary—noting that there are some situations in which competing interests require disclosure of materials in a juvenile court record, and that the juvenile court is both in the best position and statutorily authorized to decide whether to release material and, if so, what—wrote that Bailey had acted properly.
“[W]hile we acknowledge R.S.’s need for maintaining the confidentiality of his juvenile court file, we also take into account the young victim who needs to move on from these traumatic events, and who should not have to relive them and be traumatized through the probable barrage of depositions and trial testimony that filing a civil action will bring,” she said.
“Moreover, it is likely less traumatic to R.S. to allow his parents’ insurance company to view the taped interview under the strict restraints imposed by the court, than to have R.S. endure the rigors and stigma of civil litigation.”
The justice also wrote that preventing disclosure would not protect the minor against release of the information on the tape because there was nothing on the recording to which the victim would not be able to testify at trial or otherwise disseminate if the victim so chose.
“R.S. should not be able to shield himself, or to unnecessarily delay, the potential civil liability that results from his acts by hiding from them under the guise of confidentiality,” she commented.
Presiding Justice David G. Sills and Justice William F. Rylaarsdam joined O’Leary in her opinion.
Costa Mesa attorney Correen Ferrentino represented the minor objecting to disclosure.
The case is R.S. v. Superior Court (M.L.), G040473.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company