Second open records case heads to Nevada Supreme Court
Just days after the Nevada Supreme Court heard arguments in an open records case involving the Clark County School District, the Washoe County School District set a meeting to decide whether to appeal a similar case.
The Las Vegas Review Journal won a district court order that CCSD turn over investigative files involving allegations District Trustee Kevin Childs is guilty of discriminatory conduct involving district employees and students. The district is appealing that ruling.
On Wednesday, lawyer Adam Honey argued the district can’t release everything the newspaper wants because, even with the names blacked out, the other information in the files would clearly identify both alleged victims and witnesses. That, according to Honey, would expose those individuals to potential retaliation and harassment. He said that would then deter others from coming forward in cases of discrimination and other violations.
The Reno Gazette Journal won a similar ruling from District Judge Jerome Polaha who directed the district to release records into its investigation of bullying and harassment within the special education department. Washoe school trustees have set a Tuesday hearing and are expected to vote to appeal that ruling to the Supreme Court.
District Counsel Neil Rombardo said ahead of Tuesday’s meeting he can’t comment on the case.
Washoe too has argued the requested investigative files must remain confidential because simply blacking out the names won’t adequately prevent identification of victims, witnesses and others.
At Wednesday’s hearing before the full court, Honey argued federal regulations and guidelines impose a duty on employers to investigate allegations of discrimination and to protect the identities of those who report those violations.
He said those investigative files would be clearly confidential under the Nevada administrative code and should be confidential at the school district level as well.
Chief Justice Michael Douglas pointed out Nevada’s public records act is a rule that clearly favors releasing the records. He was joined by Justice Mark Gibbons who said “the recent trend in cases has been toward transparency and openness.”
Honey pointed out the district has a regulation authorized by the state making investigative files confidential.
But Justice Jim Hardesty said that regulation, “seems to swallow the rule.”
“Your interpretation is you don’t have to produce anything,” he said.
Margaret McLetchie, arguing for the Review-Journal, said the public has a right to evaluate the Clark school district’s handling of complaints and whether trustee Childs is fit for office. She said under the law, the district has “a heavy burden” to establish a record is confidential and the judge in Las Vegas ruled the district hasn’t met that burden.
“None of the regulations they relied on specifically makes these records confidential,” she said.
The high court took the Las Vegas case under submission but its decision in that matter will weigh heavily on the eventual ruling in the Washoe County case.