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In Re M.b.





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Woodford County; the Hon. Richard M. Baner, Judge, presiding.


This appeal presents a nettlesome question of the first amendment rights of the press versus the confidentiality provisions of the Juvenile Court Act.

Petitions for adjudication of wardship were filed in the circuit court of Woodford County naming the respondents in the instant case, M.B., a 14-year-old female, and M.[C.]B., a 12-year-old female. The latter case has been disposed of in this court and sets forth in detail the factual basis for the petitions. (In re M.B. (1985), 133 Ill. App.3d ___ (Rule 23 order).) Suffice it to say for our purposes here, the two minor respondents committed almost unbelievable acts of cruelty upon a two-year-old infant for whom they were baby-sitting. This occurred in Minonk, a small community in Woodford County. At least some of the underlying facts became known in the community, whether through gossip or otherwise, and apparently public indignation reached a high pitch. The sensational nature of the charges engendered widespread interest in the various news media in central Illinois.

On July 24, 1984, on the State's motion, the trial court placed both minors in the temporary custody of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and they were placed in a Peoria juvenile facility.

On August 2, 1984, a preadjudicatory hearing was held. On motion of the minors, the trial court then entered a protective order as follows:

"As a result of the unusually sensitive nature of this case, the apparent public interest in these proceedings and the reports of repeated telephonic threats against the physical safety of the juvenile, the Court has concluded that the statutory confidentiality of the proceedings and the identity of the participants should be maintained through specific court order to all persons allowed to be present during further hearings. The following Protective Order pursuant to Chapter 37, Section 705-5 applies to any person who appears as a party and to any news media representative who desires to attend and to the organization he or she represents. This Order includes any such representative and organization that obtains a notice of future hearings.

1. Notice of further hearings will be provided by mail only to statutory parties in interest. News media may receive copies of such notice by requesting the same in person from the Clerk and provide a receipt for such notice.

2. No person covered by this Order shall discuss any information obtained from any further hearing with any other person other than their legal counsel with the exception of counsel in the course of their investigation. No party to this proceeding may discuss the facts of the alleged occurrence or offense with any other person other than their counsel or counsel in the course of their investigation (including their authorized investigator(s).).

3. The news media are specifically prohibited from revealing directly or indirectly the identity of the minor or the minor victim.

4. The right of the news media to otherwise report the proceedings is not intended to be restricted, at this time, by this Order.

5. Information as to the date, time and location of further hearings may not be disseminated, but are provided only to allow attendance by authorized parties."

On August 7, 1984, various news media, Bloomington Broadcasting Corporation, d/b/a radio stations WJBC and WBNQ; Chronicle Publishing Company, d/b/a The Daily Pantagraph (herein Pantagraph); and Peoria Journal Star, Inc., filed motions to vacate the protective order. Since the Pantagraph is the only appellant in the instant case, our comments will be confined to its motion and subsequent proceedings. The motion alleged that the order exceeded the trial court's authority under the Juvenile Court Act and was an unconstitutional prior restraint on the freedom of the press. On August 17, 1984, the trial court entered some findings of fact and a memorandum opinion. It denied the motions to vacate and added to its prior order: "Information as to the placement location of the minor may not be disseminated." The Pantagraph filed its notice of appeal in this court on September 17, 1984.

Meanwhile, the Pantagraph and the other media mentioned above applied to the Illinois Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition to compel the trial court to vacate its protective order. On September 11, 1984, the court denied the motion for the writ with Justices Ryan, Underwood, and Simon dissenting. Thereafter, the same parties filed an application for stay with the United States Supreme Court. That was denied by that court on November 5, 1984, with Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun dissenting.

In this court the trial judge filed a motion to strike himself as an appellee in the instant case. The motion was allowed by this court on October 30, 1984, and thereafter this court appointed the State Appellate Defender to represent the minors in the instant appeal, although under the circumstances we are concerned only with the protective order, not the merits of the case. The Reporters ...

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