Confidentiality of Juvenile Court Records In California

Section 827 and California Rules of Court, rule 1423 provide guidelines regarding the dissemination of juvenile court records. At the time the court ordered the records released, section 827 provided, in relevant part: "Except as provided in Section 828, a petition filed in any juvenile court proceeding, reports of the probation officer, and all other documents filed in that case or made available to the probation officer in making his or her report, or to the judge, referee, or other hearing officer, and thereafter retained by the probation officer, judge, referee, or other hearing officer, may be inspected only by court personnel, the district attorney, a city attorney or city prosecutor authorized to prosecute criminal or juvenile cases under state law, the minor who is the subject of the proceeding, his or her parents or guardian, the attorneys for the parties, and judges, referees, other hearing officers, probation officers and law enforcement officers who are actively participating in criminal or juvenile proceedings involving the minor, the superintendent or designee of the school district where the minor is enrolled or attending school, members of the child protective agencies . . ., members of the children's multidisciplinary teams, persons or agencies providing treatment or supervision of the minor, and any other person who may be designated by court order of the judge of the juvenile court upon filing a petition therefor." (Italics added.) While it is the intent of the Legislature that juvenile court records remain confidential, the policy of confidentiality is not absolute. ( In re Keisha T., supra, 38 Cal. App. 4th at p. 231.) "Subdivision (a) of section 827 . . . contains open-ended language permitting the juvenile court to designate by court order other persons who may inspect juvenile court records. This language has been consistently interpreted to vest the juvenile court with exclusive authority to determine when a release of juvenile court records to a third party is appropriate." (38 Cal. App. 4th at p. 232.) California Rules of Court, rule 1423(b) provides, in relevant part: "In determining whether to authorize inspection or release of juvenile court records, in whole or in part, the court shall balance the interests of the child and other parties to the juvenile court proceedings, the interests of the petitioner, and the interests of the public. The court shall permit disclosure of, discovery of, or access to juvenile court records or proceedings only insofar as is necessary, and only if there is a reasonable likelihood that the records in question will disclose information or evidence of substantial relevance to the pending litigation, investigation, or prosecution. The court may issue protective orders to accompany authorized disclosure, discovery or access." This rule of court provides guidance to the juvenile courts "in making the decision whether to permit persons to inspect, obtain, or copy juvenile court records . . . ." (In re Keisha T., supra, 38 Cal. App. 4th at p. 235.) It "sets forth the proper balancing test for the juvenile court to undertake. It recognizes competing interests, including the public interest, may tip the balance in favor of disclosure." (Ibid.)