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Court Rejects Argument That Juvenile Court Hearings Should Be Open With AM-Scotus Rdp Bjt

November 5, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court turned away arguments Monday that the public has a constitutional right to attend juvenile court proceedings.

The court, without comment, rejected a Columbus, Ohio, newspaper’s contention in a nationally publicized child-custody case that most juvenile court hearings should be open.

Lawyers for The Columbus Dispatch argued that past rulings establishing a public right to attend criminal trials even over a defendant’s objections should apply to juvenile court proceedings as well.

The Ohio Supreme Court previously rejected that argument, noting that juvenile hearings ″are usually private″ and their records confidential.

The dispute grew out of a ″surrogate mother″ contract in which Richard and Beverly Reams hired a woman to have a child for them.

The woman, who was artificially inseminated with sperm from an unrelated donor, gave birth in early 1985 to Tessa Reams. The Reamses took custody of Tessa when she was a day old.

The couple filed for divorce two years later, and both sought custody of Tessa. The custody issue was not resolved as part of their divorce,and in 1987 Mrs. Reams, then known as Beverly Seymour, sued her ex-husband seeking permanent custody of Tessa.

The child’s court-appointed guardian sought to exclude the public and news media from all hearings on Tessa’s future. The guardian also sought a ″gag order″ under which Ms. Seymour would be barred from discussing the case with news reporters.

The presiding juvenile court judge ordered the custody hearings closed to the public, and issued the gag order against Ms. Seymour.

A state appeals court blocked enforcement of both orders, ruling that they unduly interfered with what it called a constitutional right of public access to juvenile courts.

But on appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court last June said the appeals court was wrong.

After the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the custody hearing over Tessa was conducted in secret last August. Custody was awarded to Richard Reams.

When Reams went to his ex-wife’s home in Ashville, Ohio, a week later to pick up Tessa, he was fatally shot. Ms. Seymour has been charged with his murder.

The custody issue continued after Reams was killed. Both the woman who bore Tessa, Norma Lee Stotski, and Ms. Seymour’s sister, Christine Clay, sought custody.

County officials, awarded custody by the presiding judge, last month placed Tessa in the home of Annabelle Reams, Richard Reams’ mother. The county said Tessa recognized her as her grandmother, even though there were no biological ties.

After Reams was shot, The Columbus Dispatch was given the record of the August custody hearing.

But lawyers for the newspaper said the legal dispute is not moot because it could arise in another case.