Former Gov. Gibbons must describe withheld mail
(AP) – Ruling in favor of a Nevada newspaper, the state Supreme Court says former Gov. Jim Gibbons must describe dozens of emails he refused to make public and explain why they are not subject to the state’s public record laws.
The court ruled that Carson City District Judge Todd Russell erred in determining that Gibbons did not have to create a log containing a factual description of each withheld record. It ordered the judge to review the 98 messages in question and determine whether they should now be disclosed.
The decision stems from a 2008 public records request made by the Reno Gazette-Journal. A lawyer representing the newspaper said on Friday the ruling means the state will have to provide information about who sent the email, who received it, what it was about and why it was confidential.
“We’ve said all along you can’t just issue a blanket denial, you have to give a more expansive explanation so there is something we can look at to see if your claims of confidentiality are meritorious,” Reno lawyer Scott Glogovac told The Associated Press.
“They said, ‘No, we don’t have to,’ which forced us to sue them,” he said Friday.
Some of the emails in question were to Kathy Karrasch. Gibbon’s former wife accused him of having an affair with Karrasch, something he denied. Their divorce became official in July 2010, two months before he was defeated by Brian Sandoval in the 2010 GOP primary.
The Las Vegas Review Journal first reported on Thursday’s 7-0 decision by the state’s high court. The ruling stopped short of saying that governors’ email messages are public records, but made clear that governors must give specific reasons when they refuse to make such messages publicly available.
The justices ruled that the newspaper must be given a log containing a “general factual description” of the messages that Gibbons refused hand over, along with “a specific explanation for nondisclosure” by the former governor.
Barry Smith, the Nevada Press Association executive director, hailed the decision for supporting the state public records law.
“It’s a very good ruling because it recognizes the need for a log, or index, of the emails and the reasons they were withheld,” Smith said. “Otherwise, the Reno newspaper had no way of arguing their side of the case. I think it could be a very important ruling in future open-records cases.”
Glogovac said the emails are the property of the governor’s office, represented by the attorney general’s office, so the case doesn’t technically involve Gibbons at this point.
“We sued the office of the governor,” he said. “The records remain part of the office of the governor of the state of Nevada so the new administration will have to decide how they want to handle it.”
“I honestly don’t know what they will do,” he said.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said in an e-mail to AP on Friday her office was reviewing the ruling.
“The Supreme Court has come out with new requirements regarding public records and we will work with our client to make sure the ruling is followed,” she said.