Think tank to ask high court to rule on emails

A local think tank has failed in District Court to force the Clark County School District to hand over 18,000 email addresses issued to its teachers.

But the Nevada Policy Research Institute is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court, and its chances of a reversed ruling are favorable in the opinion of Allen Lichtenstein, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

“The Nevada Supreme Court has been quite clear that government records are public, with very limited exceptions,” he said Tuesday, referring to the court’s interpretation of a state law requiring government agencies to “foster democratic principles by providing members of the public with access to inspect and copy public books.”

But the district is asserting that the email addresses issued to teachers aren’t “public records” as described in the Nevada Public Records Act, though the district and all other Nevada government agencies annually provide the names of all employees, their titles and individual salary information to the institute.

The district argued the email addresses are a communication device or method, and not a public record. Clark County District Judge Douglas Smith agreed in a decision released Monday.

“It’s a public record,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t know how the (Supreme) Court could view it otherwise.”

In a 2010 case between Reno Newspapers and Washoe County, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned a lower court’s ruling that concealed firearm permits are confidential, finding that all records are public documents unless “explicitly made confidential by statute,” for “privacy,” or to not interfere with law enforcement’s criminal investigation.

“I should re-emphasize that we’re requesting a list of government-issued, government employee email addresses, not email content,” think tank spokesman Victor Joecks said. “It’s hard to imagine a more public record.”

State law says that people’s home addresses, phone numbers and other private information are not to be released, but the institute is requesting no personal information but public email addresses.

Lichtenstein noted that the district has “always tried to limit” records that it provides to the public. The think tank’s experience has been similar, contending the district is the worst in the state for blocking public records requests.

“If the School District is able to twist the public records law, it will only embolden them,” Joecks said.

Lichtenstein said, “It’s Clark County School District’s seemingly never-ending attempt to whittle away at public records law.”

When the institute requested the email addresses in June 2012, it wanted to remind all teachers of the short window of time for dropping membership in the Clark County Education Association.

The union, which represents district teachers and is part of the Nevada State Education Association, allows members to drop out from July 1-15, when “most teachers are on vacation and school-related activities are the furthest things from their minds,” Joecks wrote in last year’s email to teachers.

Union members pay $768 in annual dues.

Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at tmilliard@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.