Bill to open state court records fails |

Bill to open state court records fails

Associated Press Writer

A watered-down version of a bill to restrict Nevada judges’ ability to seal court records failed on a party-line vote Thursday in the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee.

During a brief meeting on the Senate floor, Judiciary Chairman Mark Amodei of Carson City and the other three Republicans on the panel voted against the proposed amendment to AB519 while the three Democrats on the committee voted for it.

The amendment had come from judges who had opposed an earlier version of the measure. The previous version remains barely alive, with little hope of survival beyond Friday, the deadline for action by the Senate committee on any Assembly bills it’s reviewing.

“I’m disappointed that it didn’t get through the committee,” Barry Smith, head of the Nevada Press Association said of the amendment. “I thought that because it was watered down it covered everybody’s concerns.”

But Smith said he’s optimistic that the state Supreme Court will come up with “some reasonable guidelines” on how sealing of court records.

The high court, which had remained neutral on AB519, has set up a commission of judges, attorneys and media representatives to look into the sealing of court documents.

The rejected amendment provided that a judge could seal a court record only if there’s no danger of a public hazard being concealed. Also, there would have to be a finding that release of the information could create “a serious and imminent danger to the public interest.”

The amendment also provided that someone could move to inspect a sealed record, and that motion could be granted for “good cause” by the judge who had sealed the document or by the chief judge of a particular court.

In previous hearings, proponents of the Assembly-approved bill said judges’ discretion to seal court cases has been abused in Nevada to hide information about high-profile litigants or products that are defective.

But the American Insurance Association submitted a letter to the committee stating that AB519, sponsored by Assembly Judiciary Chairman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, should be rejected “because it is unnecessary, unwise and contrary to the public interest.”

The AIA said the “premature release of ultimately unfounded information can be very damaging to a business, a product or an individual party.”