Nevada Law Prohibits Sealing Of Governor's Records

Nevada State Flag
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Unlike Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean, who sealed some of his executive records for the time he was governor in Vermont, Nevada's governor has no such privilege.

Nevada law requires governors leaving office to turn their documents over to state archives, which makes most of them public record.

The last Nevada governor to seal his records was Bob List. Following the practice at the time, he sealed his records for 25 years after leaving office in 1983.

Later that year, Gov. Richard Bryan signed a law repealing that provision.

When Dean left office in January, he donated 335 boxes of official documents to the Vermont state archives, but ordered that 145 boxes stay sealed for 10 years.

He told Vermont reporters he had them sealed to keep "anything embarrassing (from) appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor."

Dean since has said he doesn't know what is in the boxes because he had his lawyer select the documents to remain sealed.

The decision drew criticism from other candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination and a lawsuit from a conservative group, Judicial Watch, which wants a judge to open the records.

Guy Rocha, Nevada state archivist, said such a controversy has not occurred in Nevada, largely because the most recent governors have not had future political aspirations and because of the 1983 law opening such records.

"A governor does not have a right as the chief executive to make his own decisions as to what to do with the records," Rocha told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

A governor's executive records include documents such as letters to constituents, position papers on important issues, memos among staff, minutes and agendas of boards to which the governor belonged and communication between the governor and other government officials, Rocha said.

Under Nevada law, any record that identifies a private individual, such as a constituent, lobbyist or business owner must be sealed for 10 years or until that person dies. Researchers can review those records if the individual's name is redacted.

Any other records that are declared confidential by another state law, such as adoption records, also remain closed, Rocha said.

Before 1983, Nevada governors donated their records to the state archives by tradition, Rocha said. They also had the option of sealing them for any length of time.

List was the last governor to do so. To access his records, someone must obtain written permission from List, who lives and works in Las Vegas.

List said he was following the practice of predecessor Gov. Mike O'Callaghan, who also sealed his records for 25 years. O'Callaghan's records became available for public review on Monday.

"As far as I know, every governor before me did it," List said. "It was always done historically to protect the privacy of the people who wrote to the governor."

List's administration was marked by several controversies, many involving organized crime, which was trying to hang on to the state's gambling market.

List, who was attorney general before he was governor, was caught in a political controversy when it was revealed shortly after his election that he had accepted free room and food from the Stardust Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas at the same time his office was investigating the establishment for possible mob infiltration.

List never was formally reprimanded or charged in connection with the controversy. Later, there was an extortion attempt against him by organized crime members accused of skimming casino profits and seeking a secret takeover of Argent Corp., which owned the Stardust and another Las Vegas casino.

But Rocha said List's executive documents probably don't include any records that would shed new light on those incidents.

"If there ever was anything, I doubt if it made it to the archives," Rocha said.