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Panel votes to recommend against super-sealing records in most cases

The practice of sealing court records to the point where their existence is not officially documented got no support from the members of a special commission appointed by the Nevada Supreme Court.

In a unanimous vote on Monday, the lawyers, judges, journalists and professionals who sit on the Commission on Preservation, Access and Sealing of Court Records agreed that there should be a prohibition placed on the practice of super-sealing cases.

Exceptions would be made in situations where the law allows, such as when indictments are sealed because the suspects have not yet been taken into custody or where trade secrets are at stake. But members said that carte blanche secrecy has no place in a legal system where open courts are intended to serve the public interest.

A.D. Hopkins, commission member and special projects editor for the Review-Journal, made the motion to prohibit super-sealing, which was defined as the practice of removing from the public record: "the name of the case, the docket number or any normally present identifier."

Commission member and attorney Don Campbell, who has represented the Review-Journal in court matters, said the burden for demonstrating why a case should be sealed should fall on the person seeking the sealing. He also said there should be a high threshold for sealing of cases.

The commission was formed by the Supreme Court earlier this year after a series of articles published by the Review-Journal articles found that at least 115 lawsuits had been sealed by Clark County District Court judges between 2000 and 2006.

The group’s role is to make recommendations to the state Supreme Court justices who will define when it’s appropriate to seal a case and when it’s not. The commission also will make recommendations on what bar has to be met before a case is sealed and what recourse the media and the public have in challenging a decision to seal records.

A subcommittee was appointed to work on the first draft of a policy on sealing cases. The entire group will review the language at a meeting tentatively scheduled for August.

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