Nevada Court Asked To Review Policy On Sealed Cases

A proposal requiring civil court records to be open to the public unless a legitimate case can be made for sealing the documents has been endorsed by a panel and sent to the Nevada Supreme Court for approval.

The draft rule is the culmination of months of work by the Supreme Court's Commission on Preservation, Access and Sealing of Court Records to come up with a uniform policy on how to handle such requests. No such policy exists now.

The rule presumes that civil court records are open unless a compelling case can be made why they should be hidden from public view.

It also would prohibit the sealing of entire cases, a practice called "super sealing."

Washoe County District Judge Brent Adams, a co-chairman of the commission, said the panel's vote Monday was a major step forward in clarifying an important issue for the state courts.

"The commission today gave the Supreme Court a strong, concrete rule that retains public access to legal records and also protects privacy interests in appropriate cases," he said.

"And it ends, hopefully forever, the practice of judges in secret sealing entire files."

Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks,
a member of the commission, said the proposal appears to address
concerns raised earlier this year in the Legislature.

Anderson had sought legislation dealing with the issue after reading a series of Las Vegas Review-Journal articles in February that found 115 civil cases had been sealed by Clark County judges since 2000.

Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association and a member of the commission, welcomed the vote to send the rule to the Supreme Court.

"For the first time, Nevada's judges will have clear rules for when they can seal civil court records," he said.

"There must be compelling reasons, and those reasons will be in writing for anyone to see."

The draft rule as approved by the commission would allow anyone to request a court record be unsealed. Before a record could be sealed, a judge would have to make a written finding justifying the action.

Some reasons that could justify sealing all or part of a court record include information deemed confidential by state or federal law and protection of trade secrets.

The policy also allows for sealing if it involves the confidential terms of a settlement agreement of the parties.

But the policy still allows for court records to be released with any such confidential information deleted, or "redacted," from the record.