Court rules parole board not under open meeting law | NevadaAppeal.com

Court rules parole board not under open meeting law

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday that parole board hearings are exempt from the open meeting law because they are quasi-judicial.

Judicial and quasi-judicial proceedings are exempt from open meeting law requirements under Nevada law.

Parole Board spokesman David Smith said that further clarifies what the 2007 Legislature did in declaring parole hearings quasi-judicial and gets the board out from under having to comply with two sets of meeting rules.

But he said those hearings are still open to the public, as they have always been. He also said it doesn’t change the new provisions added by lawmakers requiring inmates be given reasonable notice of their hearings and have the right to have representation before the board.

The new law, effective Oct. 1, also for the first time requires the board to give inmates the reasons why they were denied if that is the board’s decision.

The big difference under the court’s unanimous opinion, Smith said, is the public comment mandated by the open meeting law doesn’t have to be allowed. He and board Chairwoman Dorla Salling had expressed concern that if hearings had to allow public comment and testimony, they would take much longer, making it impossible for the board to get through the estimated 9,000 hearings they hold each year.

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The case was filed by inmate John Witherow, who is serving a life sentence as an habitual criminal. He was sentenced as habitual after a conviction for attempted armed robbery committed in 1984.

He sued after his mother and sister were denied the right speak in favor of his release at his 2002 hearing. He argued the public must be given a chance to speak at a public hearing under the terms of the open meeting law.

Don Evans, representing Witherow, said he believes the opinion was a result of the legislative action.

“If they Legislature hadn’t changed the law, it wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “I think they would have had no choice.”

“I’m not happy,” Evans said adding that he believes inmates should be allowed to have testimony in their favor during hearings. “But I knew it was coming.”

• Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.