Good news: One of the worst local court decisions in recent memory is headed to the Nevada Supreme Court on appeal. The bad news: It could be years before the high court rules on a case that sets a terrible precedent for public records law.
Last month, District Judge Doug Smith determined the Clark County School District’s database of teacher email addresses was confidential. In reaching that flawed conclusion, Judge Smith misread NRS 239B.040, which was written to keep confidential the email addresses and telephone numbers of individuals who provide them to a government entity. Under Judge Smith’s interpretation, that law applies to public employees, whose email addresses are provided to them by the taxpaying public.
The judge scoffed at the “presumption of openness” of government records explicitly expressed in state law and upheld in numerous court decisions — including one ruling that the text of the governor’s email messages cannot be kept secret.
Never mind that most district campuses post teacher email addresses on school websites. If these are confidential records, why would the system post them for the world to see?
Judge Smith’s decision kept the email addresses from the Nevada Policy Research Institute, a free-market, fiscally conservative think tank that has for the past two years emailed local teachers to alert them of their opportunity to withdraw from their union. On Thursday, NPRI filed its notice of appeal.
Whether you agree with NPRI’s reason for wanting the email addresses is irrelevant if you value government transparency. Nevada governments are allowed to reject any public records request if they can provide a legal reason for doing so. It’s critical that the Nevada Supreme Court overturn Judge Smith’s decision before a government entity has the opportunity to use the ruling as grounds for keeping secret email or telephone records that taxpayers have every right to inspect. But the court’s caseload is so large that it might be 2015 before the appeal is decided.
This case can’t be overturned fast enough.