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07/03/91 J.D.C. WASHINGTON POST INTERVENOR

July 3, 1991

IN RE J.D.C., APPELLANT, THE WASHINGTON POST, INTERVENOR


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Eric H. Holder, Jr., Trial Judge

Steadman, Schwelb, and Wagner, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

J.D.C., who is fourteen years of age, has been charged as a juvenile in the shooting death of fifteen-year-old Jermaine Daniel, whose friendship with former Chief of Police Maurice T. Turner, Jr., had received considerable publicity in the media. J.D.C. has filed this expedited appeal from an order of a Judge of the Family Division of the Superior Court denying in part his motion to exclude members of the media from attending the fact-finding hearing *fn1 and subsequent proceedings in his case.

J.D.C.'s motion was predicated primarily on the publication in The Wall Street Journal, several days before the scheduled trial date, of an article which identified J.D.C. by name and which, among other things, stated as a fact that he had shot Daniel to death. J.D.C. contended below, and now maintains on appeal, that in light of the disclosure of his identity, any further press coverage would inevitably be linked with him, for his name would be readily discoverable by anyone who cared to know it. The trial Judge granted J.D.C.'s motion as to the Journal, but denied it as to The Washington Post and other media which had not disclosed J.D.C.'s identity.

The primary purpose of D.C. Code § 16-2316(e) (1989) and of Super. Ct. Juv. R. 53, which provide that in general the public shall be excluded from juvenile proceedings, is to preserve the anonymity of juvenile respondents in order to foster an atmosphere conducive to rehabilitation. Both the statute and the rule authorize the Judge to permit members of the media to attend juvenile proceedings provided that they do not divulge information identifying the child or members of his family. We hold that the proscription against disclosure of the juvenile's identity represents a legislative intention to authorize admission of the press only if there is reasonable assurance that the primary goal of protecting the child's anonymity can be achieved.

We recognize that the Judge made a thoughtful and conscientious effort to exercise his discretion judiciously and to balance what he viewed as the legitimate competing interests. We conclude, however, that in light of the unusual circumstances generated by the publication of the Journal article, there is no reasonable assurance that J.D.C.'s anonymity can be adequately protected in the event of press coverage of further proceedings in the case. Accordingly, we reverse the order on appeal and remand the case with directions that the trial court grant J.D.C.'s motion to exclude the media.

I

THE FACTS

Shortly after Jermaine Daniel's death, J.D.C. surrendered to police. A Judge found probable cause to believe that he had committed the offenses with which he was charged. J.D.C. was detained at the Children's Center, where he remains to the present date. His case was promptly scheduled for trial.

A few days before the designated trial date, however, The Wall Street Journal published an article headlined

KILLING OF 15-YEAR-OLD IS PART OF ESCALATION OF MURDER BY JUVENILES.

The article opened as follows:

WASHINGTON--[J.C.] *fn2 and Jermaine Daniel face each other in the concrete courtyard of their inner-city housing project. They had argued about a girl. Now, a crowd gathers as Jermaine flicks insults at [J.].

Suddenly [J.] pulls out a gun and shoots Jermaine three times in the chest.

The dead boy is 15. The shooter is 14.

The Journal's story contained other material regarding J.D.C. which depicted him and his family unfavorably, and which related a number of alleged facts of a private nature. Counsel for J.D.C. maintain that much of the information in the article is inaccurate.

Prior to the publication of the Journal article, reporters from The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and at least one other newspaper had attended court hearings in the case, despite J.D.C.'s objection to their presence. Each reporter had agreed in writing, pursuant to Super. Ct. Juv. R. 53(a), not to divulge information identifying J.D.C. and his family. Two days after the publication of the Journal article, counsel for J.D.C. filed a written "Unopposed" *fn3 Motion to Exclude Media From All Further Proceedings." On the scheduled trial date, the Post, in a story headlined

PRINTING OF DANIEL SUSPECT'S NAME BASIS OF MOVE TO CLOSE TRIAL,

revealed the disclosure of J.D.C.'s identity by the Journal, as well as the date of that disclosure, and repeated some of the unfavorable statements about J.D.C. ...


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