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In re M.D.G.

Supreme Court of Mississippi

July 25, 2019

IN THE INTEREST OF M.D.G., A MINOR, G.J., A MINOR, N.B., A MINOR: PASS CHRISTIAN SCHOOL DISTRICT
v.
HARRISON COUNTY YOUTH COURT OF MISSISSIPPI, ROY CUEVAS AND KIMBERLY CUEVAS, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS NEXT FRIENDS AND GUARDIANS TO E.C., A MINOR

          DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/24/2017

          HARRISON COUNTY YOUTH COURT TRIAL JUDGE: HON. MARGARET ALFONSO

          TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: SCOTT WATSON WEATHERLY, JR. EDWARD C. TAYLOR TERRENCE J. LESTELLE KATIE RYAN VAN CAMP RICHARD M. MORGAIN TRACE D. McRANEY ANDREW WILLIAM HORSTMYER

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: EDWARD C. TAYLOR KATIE RYAN VAN CAMP

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES: SCOTT WATSON WEATHERLY, JR. TERRENCE J. LESTELLE

          BEFORE RANDOLPH, C.J., ISHEE AND GRIFFIS, JJ.

          ISHEE, JUSTICE

         ¶1. E.C.[1] alleged she was sexually assaulted on the premises of Pass Christian High School. The Harrison County Youth Court adjudicated the alleged perpetrators not delinquent. Later, Roy and Kimberly Cuevas, individually, and on behalf of their minor daughter, E.C., filed a negligence action in the Harrison County Circuit Court, seeking damages from the Pass Christian School District associated with the alleged assault.

         ¶2. Pass Christian unsuccessfully sought the records from the youth-court action to use in its defense in the civil case. It argues on appeal that the youth-court judge abused her discretion in denying its requests for disclosure of the youth-court records and trial transcripts relating to the three minor perpetrators. It also argues it would be denied due process and fairness if the sworn testimony of E.C. were not released due to the confidentiality rules protecting the subjects of youth-court actions.

         ¶3. We reverse and remand for the circuit court to conduct an in camera review of the youth-court record to determine whether any of it should be disclosed.

         FACTS

         ¶4. E.C. alleged she was sexually assaulted on the campus of Pass Christian High School. She said attended a practice for an end-of-the-year program on April 20, 2015, in the gymnasium. After the practice concluded, the supervising teacher left the premises, leaving E.C. unsupervised. E.C. claims that, after the teacher left, M.G. sexually assaulted her while G.J. and N.B. aided. Five days later, police asked the principal of Pass Christian High School if the school had surveillance footage. Pass Christian did not possess any surveillance footage that could confirm or deny the alleged assault, because the footage was taped over every seventy-two hours.

         ¶5. A trial was conducted in the youth court, and the three alleged offenders were adjudicated not delinquent. Plaintiffs then filed suit against Pass Christian in circuit court for negligence.

         ¶6. Pass Christian first attempted to obtain the three youth-court files by issuing a subpoena duces tecum from the circuit court on October 20, 2016. In response, the youth court filed a motion for a protective order on October 31, 2016. A hearing was held before the circuit court on November 30, 2016. The circuit court granted the youth court a protective order, ruling that the disclosure of the record and transcript was within the discretion of the youth court.

         ¶7. Pass Christian then tried to gain access to the youth-court records by filing three separate petitions for the records in the youth court. The Plaintiffs filed a response objecting to the release of the youth-court records on April 4, 2017. A hearing was held before the youth court, and on May 24, 2017, the youth court entered an order denying Pass Christian's request for the records

         ¶8. On June 23, 2017, Pass Christian filed two notices of appeal, one to the circuit court and one to this Court, along with a statement of the issues and designation of the record. Pass Christian sought disclosure of the youth-court records and trial transcript. The appeal to the circuit court was voluntarily dismissed on July 11, 2017. On August 29, 2017, the youth court entered an order excluding the youth-court record and transcript from the appellate record.

         ¶9. On September 12, 2017, Pass Christian again sought access to the youth-court record and trial transcript by filing a "Certificate of Examination and Proposed Corrections to the Record on Appeal" in the youth court. Plaintiffs filed their "Certificate of Examination and Opposition to Proposed Corrections of Appellant" in the youth court on September 25, 2017. The attorney for M.G. filed a response opposing Pass Christian's Certificate of Examination and Proposed Corrections to the Record on Appeal on September 27, 2017. Pass Christian then filed a motion to correct the record on appeal in the youth court on October 10, 2017. The Plaintiffs filed a response opposing the motion on October 23, 2017. The youth court entered an order on March 19, 2018, that denied access to the youth-court records and trial transcript.

         ¶10. Once again, Pass Christian tried to gain access to the youth-court records and trial transcript by filing a motion to correct the record on appeal in this Court on April 4, 2018. Plaintiffs and the youth court filed responses opposing the motion on April 17, 2018. ...


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