CARSON CITY, Nev. Civil court records will remain open unless a compelling case can be made for sealing them, under a rule enacted this week by the Nevada Supreme Court.
The rule, approved Dec. 31 by all seven high court justices, “underscores the court’s belief in open government and our commitment to preserve the public nature of the business of the judicial branch,” said Chief Justice Bill Maupin.
The rule, recommended by the high court’s Commission on Preservation, Access and Sealing of Court Records, allows anyone, whether a party to the case or not, to request the unsealing of a court record.
Agreement of the parties involved in a lawsuit isn’t enough to seal a court record, and anyone objecting to a record-unsealing would have to make a case to a judge on why the information should be kept confidential.
Before a record could be sealed, a judge would have to make a written finding based on a balancing test to see whether sealing would be justified by “compelling privacy or safety interests that outweigh the public interest in access to the court record.”
The rule prohibits “super-sealing,” or sealing of an entire file. A broad provision allows for case-by-case evaluations to determine whether certain records in a file should be kept closed.
Washoe County District Judge Brent Adams, who chaired the court records commission, has said the rule will serve as “a good practical guide” for Nevada judges and is line with the overarching concept that courts are public institutions.
Justice Jim Hardesty, who served on the reform panel, said the rule applies to all current court records as well as future court records.
Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association and also a member of the court records commission, has said judges still could seal records to protect trade secrets or confidential tax records, or to keep people from being exposed to identity theft — but it won’t be enough to just ask a judge to keep the record secret.
The issue of sealed records was taken up by the Nevada Supreme Court at the same time the 2007 Legislature was looking into the matter. A bill to prohibit closed records unless the release of information posed a danger to the public was rejected by a Senate panel because of the state Supreme Court review.
Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, sought the measure after a series of Las Vegas Review-Journal articles in February found Clark County judges had sealed 115 civil cases since 2000.