Parole Board goes back to work | NevadaAppeal.com

Parole Board goes back to work

Nevada’s Parole Board is going back to work.

The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday issued a stay which allows the board to resume inmate hearings while they argue whether they should be required to follow the open-meeting law.

The board has operated for years as a quasi-judicial body exempt from having to comply with the tougher rules in Nevada’s open-meeting law. That allowed them to limit public testimony, deliberate in private and keep personal data and records of both inmate families and victims confidential.

But the high court decided earlier this month the board doesn’t qualify for the judicial exemption and must follow the specific mandates of the open-meeting law, including allowing public comment at its inmate hearings.

That prompted the board one week ago to cancel all inmate hearings until either they received a stay of that ruling or had time to work out new procedures to meet open meeting law rules.

Chairwoman Dorla Salling said Thursday they will resume hearings as soon as possible.

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“We’ll start gearing up on Monday,” she said.

She hearings would begin again in November.

“We have to re-agendize everything. We have to re-contact the victims.”

Deputy Attorney General Kelly Werth said the court granted a stay of its Oct. 2 ruling in a case filed by inmate John Witherow pending a review of the issue.

The court stated that, in the meantime, it retains exclusive jurisdiction over the case and will decide whether to rehear or revise its ruling.

That means the court could decide a new hearing is unnecessary and change its earlier opinion.

Based on the order, Werth said, “we advised the parole board to proceed with conducting its parole board hearings free from the provisions of the open meeting law.”

He said he believes the open meeting law issue wasn’t specifically and fully addressed in the case. He said he hopes to convince the justices the parole board’s function is judicial in nature and, therefore, exempt from the provisions of the open meeting law.

Director of Corrections Glen Whorton said he was very happy with the decision.

“Obviously this allows the parole board to come back up in operation pretty quickly. They should be able to catch up on those meetings they canceled.”

Prison officials said when the board shut down last Friday they have been releasing an average of 233 male and 33 female inmates a month. With about 300 vacant beds in the system, they were concerned a prolonged shutdown of the parole system would quickly leave the entire prison system overcrowded and expose the state to potentially expensive court-imposed fines.

“With the timing of the stay and timely action by the attorney general and the court, we’ll be able to handle this,” Whorton said.

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