Ruby Franke: Judge considers making custody case private, which could limit oldest daughter’s access

Franke, who ran a popular YouTube channel about her large family, attended the hearing virtually from jail.

Ruby Franke appeared virtually from jail early Monday at a child welfare hearing in Provo concerning her four children in state custody, during which attorneys discussed whether or not to seal the case.

Kevin Franke, Ruby’s estranged husband, and their oldest daughter Shari, 20, also attended the hearing alongside their attorneys. No cameras were allowed in the courtroom at 4th District Juvenile Court.

Judge Suchada P. Bazzelle heard a brief statement from the children’s counsel when the hearing began around 9 a.m. Attorney Virginia Blanchard argued to restrict public access to the child custody proceedings. She said continuing with open hearings was “contrary to their best interest.”

“We’re talking about children,“ Blanchard said. “We’re not talking about adults. Children’s sensitive information that has been published worldwide.”

Blanchard’s statement comes after another juvenile court hearing earlier this month, where Franke, again appearing virtually from jail, accused two of her children of being abusive to other children, The Daily Mail reported. Kevin Franke also attended that hearing.

Ruby Franke and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, a licensed mental health counselor, were arrested Aug. 30 after Franke’s 12-year-old son escaped Hildebrandt’s Ivins home to ask neighbors for food and water. Neighbors called police when they saw the child had duct tape on his wrists and ankles.

[Read more: Utah’s ‘free-range parenting’ law supposedly kept child services from helping Ruby Franke’s kids, neighbor says]

Police arrived at the home to find Franke’s 10-year-old daughter malnourished inside. The boy and girl, as well as two of Franke’s other children, were subsequently placed in state custody.

Franke and her family grew a significant online following through their family and parenting advice Youtube channel called “8 Passengers,” which was started in 2015 and named for Franke, her husband Kevin and their six children. The channel was deleted last year, and Franke has since been working with Hildebrandt on ConneXions, a self-improvement program that offers DVDs, workshops, workbooks and other materials.

At its height, “8 Passengers” garnered more than 2 million followers, but the channel was controversial. Some videos discussed harsh punishments for the children’s behavior, such as banning the oldest son from his bedroom for months because he pranked his brother, or Franke refusing to bring a kindergartener lunch when the child forgot to pack it for school.

Shari Franke appeared to celebrate her mother’s arrest on social media in a post that read, “Finally.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Shari Franke, 20, the oldest daughter of Kevin and Ruby Franke, attends a child welfare hearing involving her four siblings in Utah Division of Child and Family Service custody on Sept. 18, 2023, in Provo.

Police records indicate that 20-year-old Shari Franke had called police to the family’s Springville home at least once before, telling police she was concerned her siblings had been left at home alone for days.

Bazzelle on Monday asked both Kevin and Shari Franke’s counsel to submit briefs on whether the custody proceedings should remain public. Making it private could limit Shari Franke’s access. Bazzelle said she understood media interest in the case and wanted to consider the question “from all angles” before ruling.

A virtual mediation to discuss that matter is scheduled for Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. An in-person, pre-trial hearing was scheduled for 10 a.m. Oct. 17 in Provo.

After the welfare hearing adjourned, Kevin Franke, his attorney Randy Kester, and Division of Child and Family Services staff and counsel met in a nearby conference room. DCFS staffers left around 9:45 a.m., and Franke and Kester exited the courthouse around 10:20 a.m.

Outside, Kester told reporters that he and Kevin Franke were working “to get this family healed and get these kids back where they should be.” Kester said they should be with a family member, “preferably Kevin.”

“We’re going to work hard, Kevin and I, to convince the state that he’s an incredible father, as he was before all this happened and they became separated,” Kester continued. “But in the meantime, he’s just working hard getting himself back in position to be able to take these kids and raise them as a good father would.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Kevin Franke, right, estranged husband of Ruby Franke, is joined by his attorney Randy Kester as he exits a courthouse in Provo after a child welfare hearing regarding the couple's four children in Utah Division of Child and Family Services custody on Sept. 18, 2023.

Kevin and Ruby Franke have been separated for 14 months, Kester said, and Kevin recently moved back into the family’s Springville home.

Kester said he preferred that future hearings be closed to the public.

“As to the adults, I don’t think anybody cares. But as to the kids ... these kids have been through a lot, and to have all this media exposure to them, individually as little kids who have been manipulated, I think it’s better held privately,” he said.

He added that he thinks Shari Franke “has a right” to be in the courtroom, but added Bazzelle will make the final decision.

Kester declined to comment on the allegations Ruby Franke aired in the previous child welfare hearing, saying it went “into a lot of detail and a lot of things about kids that just shouldn’t be discussed.”

Monday’s hearing was scheduled as Franke’s first of the day. A status review hearing for both Franke and Hildebrandt was scheduled for later in the day regarding their child abuse case, but at 8:30 a.m., a Utah courts spokesperson announced that the criminal hearing had been postponed until after Oct. 5.

That’s because attorneys had filed a stipulated motion to continue the hearing, citing “additional time needed to review copious amounts of discovery,” the spokesperson advised.