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Home | Blogs | JoeU's blog

Mass. Trial Court Attempts to Keep Public Hearings on Child Support Secret

Several individuals recently contacted the Massachusetts Trial Court to obtain records (written or audio) of the public child support (CS) hearings held by the committee charged with coming up with new CS guidelines for the state. Their requests were denied however. The trial court staff has stonewalled release of the records saying they would need to review if committee members would face any liability should the records be made public.

 

On its face, such reasoning excuse is ludicrous. There appears instead to be no reason whatsoever for keeping records of a public hearing secret.

 

Hector Montalvo's ('Behind the Scenes') open letter to Rep. Deleo regarding this attempt to keep public records secret follows:

 

(Left, Chief Administrative Judge Robert Mulligan reportedly approved keeping the public hearing record secret)

*****************************************************************************************************

Dear Speaker Deleo,

I want to thank you for your recognition on my winning a National Award for my television show "Behind the Scene with Hector Montalvo",on the inner working of government, which you signed on October 25, 2012 (Citation attached).
As you know, my show bested over 1100 other show in the country, taking the number one spot under democracy in action category.
 
Today, not only do I write to you to thank you but also to seek your assistance.
 
One of my current projects is the review of development of the Child Support Guide Lines required every 4 years. The Commonwealth has delegated this task to a committee of individuals from the judicial branch - which has held public hearings around the Commonwealth.
 
As you can imagine there is much public interest in this process. I have requested a copy of the hearing transcripts from Judge Paula Carey's office but to date my request, and that of other members of the public, has been rejected. Given recent notable problems uncovered in the judiciary and probation department I hope you will agree that this lack of openness and transparency is unacceptable.
 
After this surprising initial denial I requested the child support task force committee release to me the  transcripts  of all public hearings it held in the month of September and October under the public records law.
 
This effort as well has been rejected by the office of Chief Justice Paula Carey (and I presume by Chief Justice Robert Mulligan) as noted in this response from her office:
 
"Judicial Branch  is not subject to G.L. c. 66, § 10, the pertinent section of the Massachusetts public records statute. See G.L. c. 4, § 7, Twenty-sixth clause (defining "public records"); 950 CMR §§ 32.02 (excluding judiciary from definition of "government entity" subject to public records statute); and Kettenbach v. Board of Bar Overseers, 448 Mass. 1019, 1020-21 (2007) ("Under these regulations, the public records law applies to only one of the three branches of State government, namely the Executive branch.")".
 
As I understand it, the task force is a committee, in charge of reviewing guidelines required by federal requirements under legislative mandate. That such hearings are of ‘public record’ is clear by the committee’s invitation to the public to attend and voice their opinions as well as the public announcements of when and where the hearings would be held.
 
There appears to be a concerted effort to prevent reporters like myself and the public from reviewing, photo copying or even seeing the documents. (I will forward at your request copies of all of my relevant correspondence requesting public access.)

If these public child support hearings are not beyond reproach, fair, open and above board in all aspects, the outcome will not be seen as legitimate by the public at large. In fact, quite the opposite will occur. The suspicion will arise that the child support task force committee is hiding something.

I hope you will take whatever steps necessary to ensure that this does not occur and that the hearing records are made available to the public.
 
I look forward to your response.
Hector Montalvo
Executive Producer / Investigative Reporter                        
Behind the scene with Hector Montalvo                    
596 Bridge St
Lowell, Massachusetts 01844 
(978) 384-0463