High court rules against one of their own | NevadaAppeal.com

High court rules against one of their own

The Nevada Supreme Court Thursday ruled Justice Nancy Saitta had no right to completely seal a divorce case when she was a district judge and that her gag order on the parties was unconstitutional.

The case involved Robert Lueck’s 2005 petition to reduce his child support payments to Jane Johanson, whom he divorced in 1999. During the hearing, Lueck, who was running for a district court judge’s position at the time, expressed concern that the order reducing his child support arrears would be used against him in his campaign.

Even though Lueck never asked the case be sealed, Saitta issued an order sealing the entire case and a second order prohibiting any of the attorneys, their staffs and even Lueck and Johanson from talking publicly about the case.

Saitta was elected to the Supreme Court in 2006, defeating Nancy Becker. In that same election, Lueck was defeated in his bid for a district judge’s post by William Potter.

The Supreme Court, with former Chief Justice Debbie Agosti sitting in for Saitta, ruled that sealing the entire case violated Nevada law, which limits what can be sealed in divorce cases.

The law, according to the opinion by Justice Michael Douglas, “plainly states that certain documents in divorce proceedings ‘shall’ remain open to the public.”

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“The district court has no discretion in divorce cases to seal pleadings, court findings, orders that resolve motions or judgments,” the opinion states.

“Here, the courts order sealing the entire case file, including all orders, judgments and decrees, when no written request was made, was a manifest abuse of discretion,” it states.

Johanson’s appeal also argued the gag order violates free speech guarantees. The court unanimously agreed.

“A gag order preventing participants from making extra-judicial statements about their own case amounts to a prior restraint on speech and undermines First Amendment rights,” the opinion states.

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