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/ DEVELOPMENTS IN LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Board Seeks to Open Records of Dead Children

November 11, 1998

LOS ANGELES — Contradicting its own lawyers, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to seek changes in state law that would allow the Juvenile Court records of dead children to be open to the public.

The move occurred a day after county lawyers lost a round in their court fight to keep secret some files in a custody dispute that ended when a former county employee allegedly killed her two children.

"It has a cloud of suspicion over this process--that the bureaucracy is protecting one of its own rather than the interests of children," said Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

Antonovich chided the county's top lawyer, saying that his statements to supervisors last week that the county was required to seal cases contradicted the county's own legal papers.

The two children's father filed suit, contending that county social workers improperly curtailed his visitation rights and left his children with their psychologically unstable mother.

County lawyers have fought to keep the files sealed. In a second case, the county is attempting to seal a Superior Court lawsuit about a 9-year-old boy's death while in the foster care system.

County lawyers say opening the files may have a "chilling effect" on child welfare investigations because people may not talk to social workers if they realize that their statements could become public.

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