Judges stop 'supersealing' court records

CARSON CITY -- Chief Justice Jim Hardesty told lawmakers Wednesday that Nevada's district judges have stopped "supersealing" court records, in line with a state Supreme Court order given in late 2007.

Hardesty said that under the rule, recommended by the high court's Commission on Preservation, Access and Sealing of Court Records, a judge cannot lock up a civil court file and "obliterate it from existence" by keeping the docket number secret.

"I feel the Supreme Court has addressed concerns identified by the press about district judges' supersealing of court records," Hardesty told the Assembly Judiciary Committee. "That has been discontinued."

Hardesty added that a judge cannot seal the contents of a file without holding a hearing to determine whether a legitimate reason exists.

He said that a judge can seal records in certain cases, to protect trade secrets or someone's confidential medical, mental health or tax records that are a part of a court record.

"This is a serious problem," Hardesty said. "We have companies that have come in and mined the records for information to be used in their marketing."

Hardesty also said the commission is dealing with technology issues in accessing court files and retaining microfilm files.

"We are now getting to the point where microfilm files from 30 or 40 years ago are now being subject to being lost," Hardesty said.

He said counties across the state are losing storage space for files, and he suggested the Legislature consider using the state archives to preserve court files.

The issue of sealed records was taken up by the Nevada Supreme Court at the same time the 2007 Legislature was looking into the matter.

A measure to prohibit closed records unless the release of information posed a danger to the public was rejected by a Senate panel because of the state Supreme Court's review.

Assemblyman Bernie Anderson, D-Sparks, sought the measure after a series of Review-Journal articles in February 2007 found Clark County judges had sealed 115 civil cases since 2000.

Washoe County District Judge Brent Adams, who led the court records commission, has said the rules that restrict the record-sealing are in line with the overarching concept that courts are public institutions.