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Former Review-Journal reporter, Reno-based judge Brent Adams dies

Brent Adams, a former Las Vegas Review-Journal news reporter and one-time prominent Washoe County trial judge who advocated making court records public and limiting campaign funds for unopposed judicial candidates, has died at age 74.

Adams died Nov. 2 in Reno, according to Elise Adams, his wife of 18 years. She declined to disclose the cause of his death.

A judge in the Second Judicial District Court in Washoe County for 25 years, Adams enjoyed an extensive career in the legal field, including five years as an assistant federal public defender and 17 years in private practice in Reno before becoming Gov. Bob Miller’s first judicial appointment in 1989, according the court’s website.

Re-elected to the district court four times, Adams oversaw hundreds of jury and non-jury trials, sat by designation on the state Supreme Court and was the founding presiding judge of the Washoe County Business Court, the court reported.

Born in Las Vegas in 1948, Brent Thomas Adams, the son of a life insurance executive, went to public schools, including Las Vegas High School, where he won the Nevada State High School Debate Championship in both his junior and senior years and was appointed chief justice of the high school’s student court.

Later, he was one of only two Nevada students accepted to attend the National High School Institute at Northwestern University.

He received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and English from Northern Arizona University.

Back in Las Vegas, hired as a reporter for the Review-Journal, he would win the Charles E. Murray Award from the Nevada Press Association for Outstanding Reporter of Year.

Two years later, Adams entered the University of Arizona’s law school, where he edited the law review before earning his Juris Doctor degree in 1974. He started his legal career as a clerk for Samuel Lionel, senior partner in the law firm Lionel, Sawyer & Collins in Reno.

While a district judge and chairman of the state Supreme Court’s Commission on Preservation, Access and Sealing of Court Records, he was outspoken in his insistence that court records and hearings be open to the public and that the sealing of court documents occur only in rare cases.

“The risk of abuse of discretion in sealing records demonstrates the need for carefully defining any exception to an opened-records policy,” he said in 2007. “If a record is sealed, it is very difficult to do something about it after it is sealed.”

The state’s high court later adopted the commission’s guidelines limiting judges from keeping records of lawsuits in Nevada hidden from the public.

As Adams described it, there has to “be a written motion, an independent judgment by the court, and a written order that sets out the specific reason why there is a compelling privacy interest (to seal a document).”

The Review-Journal reported in 2009 that some courts, judges and lawyers in Clark County had failed to follow those rules restricting the sealing of certain court documents.

Separately, Adams argued before the state Supreme Court in 2007 in favor of a legislative proposal to restrict campaign fundraising by judges who run unopposed, as many had done.

Elise Adams said that her husband, as a judge, was concerned about the undue influence of one or a few contributors making big cash donations to individual judicial candidates up for election.

“The funding bothered him,” she said. “You can put a lot of money behind one candidate and they can win.”

Adams also participated in politics, serving as chairman of the Nevada State Democratic Party from 1982 to 1984.

Along with his wife, he is survived by his sons Thomas and William, both of Reno, a stepson Toby and four grandchildren. His twin brother Bruce and sister Marlene, of Las Vegas, preceded him in death.

At his request, a private service will be held, his wife said. Instead of flowers, the family asked for donations to the National Judicial College in Reno.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JeffBurbank2 on Twitter.

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