Nevada Supreme Court Rules Member Improperly Sealed Judge's Case

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Justice Nancy Saitta abused her authority when, as a Clark County District Court judge, she issued a gag order and sealed child support proceedings involving a former judicial colleague.

Saitta did not meet requirements in state law when she sealed court records in 2006 involving former Clark County Family Court Judge Robert Lueck, the court said in the ruling issued Thursday.

Lueck at the time was seeking to return to the bench.

The unanimous 13-page ruling, written by Justice Michael Douglas, calls Saitta's decision to seal the case without a written request and without findings or public notice "a manifest abuse of discretion."

The ruling found only that the action was improper and directed the Clark County District Court to open the case to the public.

It did not address any motivation by Saitta for sealing the case.

Saitta, who was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006, did not participate in the decision.

Senior Justice Deborah Agosti served in her place.

Saitta did not immediately respond Friday to a message left at her office seeking comment.

Lueck, an attorney in private practice, also did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The ruling was a victory for Jane Johanson, who asked the Supreme Court through her attorney Bruce Shapiro to nullify the gag order and unseal the records of her child support case involving Lueck, her ex-husband.

Shapiro did not immediately respond Friday to a message seeking comment.

Shapiro filed a petition last year accusing Saitta of issuing the gag order and sealing the court records to prevent voters from learning that Lueck failed to pay child support.

Lueck, who served on the Family Court bench between 1999-2004, lost his bid in 2006 to return to a seat on the Family Court.

At a July 11, 2006, hearing, Saitta found that Lueck was behind in his $750-a-month child support payments.

But she sealed the case, citing the potential use of the child support information for negative campaigning.

Saitta was running at the time against incumbent Justice Nancy Becker for the Supreme Court.

She acknowledged in October 2006 that she made the statements about negative campaigns, but she denied any favoritism toward Lueck and said she ordered the gag order and sealed the records to protect the child.

State law allows a court to seal certain documents in a divorce case, but only upon written request of one of the parties.

The gag order prohibited public discussion of the case by those involved.

The court characterized the gag order as unconstitutionally vague, and said it violated Johanson's free speech rights.

The court said such orders can be entered only when there is a clear and present danger or a serious and imminent threat, and when no less restrictive alternatives are available.