Autopsy reports on hold while court weighs newspaper’s lawsuit

Updated December 12, 2017 - 9:47 pm

The Clark County Coroner can withhold autopsies sought by the Las Vegas Review-Journal until the Nevada Supreme Court rules on an appeal in the newspaper’s open records lawsuit.

After the coroner’s office appealed District Judge Jim Crockett’s September decision on disclosing reports on deaths dating back to 2012, the judge agreed to postpone his Dec. 28 deadline for the coroner to provide the documents.

Review-Journal attorney Maggie McLetchie said she would seek an expedited decision from the high court, adding that the public should have a right to review records upon request.

“The LVRJ — or any member of the public who is seeking court records — should not have to wait years to get access to the public’s own records,” McLetchie wrote in an email.

The newspaper filed a lawsuit in July for autopsy records after the coroner refused to provide reports of recent deaths.

“The Review-Journal will prevail in this cynical appeal, which ensures the public will pay pointless legal fees for the privilege of being denied access to autopsy records for a long time,” Review-Journal Editor Keith Moyer said Tuesday. “Public scrutiny of autopsy records ensures accountability within the criminal justice system. How can we ever be sure that police, prosecutors and the coroner are doing their jobs if we can’t see their work product?”

Crockett had ruled in September that autopsy reports are public record in the state, rejecting the county’s arguments that state law requires records reviewed by outside committees to remain private.

Asking to stay that decision, Clark County Deputy District Attorney Laura C. Rehfeldt, representing the coroner’s office, has argued that the reports contain medication relating to children and should be confidential.

“The Coroner’s position is that these reports are confidential and not subject to public access. Release of the documents prior to the completion of the appeal process would undermine the Coroner’s argument.”

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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