The Fourth Department, reversing Family Court, determined appellant, an online local news outlet, should not have been excluded from an attorney-disqualification hearing and was entitled to a transcript of the hearing. The respondent in a neglect proceeding had moved to disqualify the deputy county attorney on conflict of interest grounds. Appellant’s owner deemed the motion newsworthy because the deputy county attorney had just been elected City-Court Judge. When appellant’s owner attempted to attend the disqualification hearing he was denied entry:
… “[T]he general public may be excluded from any hearing under [Family Court Act] article  and only such persons and the representatives of authorized agencies admitted thereto as have an interest in the case” (§ 1043). In making that determination, however, “[a]ny exclusion of courtroom observers must . . . be accomplished in accordance with 22 NYCRR 205.4 (b)” … . That rule provides that “[t]he general public or any person may be excluded from a courtroom [in Family Court] only if the judge presiding in the courtroom determines, on a case-by-case basis based upon supporting evidence, that such exclusion is warranted in that case” … . The rule further provides certain nonexclusive factors that a Family Court judge may consider in exercising his or her discretion, and requires that the judge make findings prior to ordering any exclusion … .
… [T]he court abused its discretion in excluding appellant from the hearing on the underlying disqualification motion. … [T]he court violated 22 NYCRR 205.4 (b) by failing to make findings prior to ordering the exclusion, and … there is no indication … that the court rendered its determination based on … evidence or considered any of the relevant factors in exercising its discretion. Moreover, … the court lacked an adequate basis to exclude appellant from the hearing on the disqualification motion … . * * *
… [T]he release of the transcript is consistent with Family Court Act § 166 and 22 NYCRR 205.5. … [T]he statute provides in relevant part that although “[t]he records of any proceeding in the family court shall not be open to indiscriminate public inspection[,] . . . the court in its discretion in any case may permit the inspection of any papers or records” … . The statute thus “does not render Family Court records confidential, but merely provides that they are not open to indiscriminate public inspection” … . The statute makes clear that Family Court “has the discretionary statutory authority to permit the inspection of any record by anyone at any time … .Matter of Rajea T. (Niasia J.), 2022 NY Slip Op 01940, Fourth Dept 3-18-22
Practice Point: Although the general public can be excluded from Family Court Article 10 proceedings, the judge exercising the discretion to exclude an observer must make certain findings in accordance with 22 NYCRR 205-4 (b). Family Court here made no findings and abused its discretion by excluding the news outlet. The court proceeding concerned whether the county attorney handling the neglect case should be disqualified on conflict of interest grounds, and did not concern the underlying allegations of neglect. The news outlet is entitled to a transcript of the hearing.