IN RESPONSE: Family Court rules protect litigants, children
There is no “affront to justice.”
July 23, 2022 - 9:02 pm
Your recent editorial about “new” rules limiting access to Family Court is false. The statutes on which the rules were based were adopted by the Legislature in 1865 and 1931, respectively, and since the 1980s court rules shielded parties’ financial information and tried to prevent exposing children to any aspect of divorces. The rules for closed hearings and sealed files have been in place since lawmakers created Family Court several decades ago.
Neither of these rules is “new.” And they had nothing whatsoever to do with the website Our Nevada Judges or its administrator, Alexander Falconi.
I do not speak for the court, but I was the reporter for the most recent rule revision committee, and neither his name nor his company ever came up in the two and a half years of meetings that those revisions took place. Not once. The two current rules are updates to rules that have been in place since Mr. Falconi was in elementary school.
Next, there is no “affront to justice.” Every hearing is recorded. The parties to these purely private disputes and their lawyers have full access. The Bar has full access if some lawyer’s conduct is in question. So does the Judicial Discipline Committee if there is a question as to the actions of a judge.
Courts, including the Nevada Supreme Court, have ruled for more than 100 years that public access to judicial records concerning private matters is properly denied when it “could only serve to satiate a thirst for scandal,” because “no legitimate purpose can be served by broadcasting the intimate details of a soured marital relationship.” The potential, and actual, harm to children who see their parents’ private and most embarrassing topics plastered on the internet, and often their own personal, private and confidential information (schedules, grades, medical, psychological and other information) shown to the world, is hard to overstate.
And equal protection demands that the rights of people — married or not, and having kids or not — be actually equal. Your statement that “judges may close Family Court proceedings whenever they please” is just false — closed hearings are driven by the parties, not the judge.
It is true that Family Court is a “hotbed of controversy and raw emotion.” That is why rational parents, knowing that their kids have access to iPads and other electronics before they can walk, wish to keep their disputes off the internet. The risk of children being exposed to divorce proceedings online is real and much more important than the public’s thirst for cheap entertainment at the expense of the privacy and dignity of families.
The notion that “increased secrecy will only exacerbate the bitterness” is so out of touch with reality that it could only have been concocted by someone with zero understanding of Family Court. Nothing exacerbates bitterness more than publicizing the questionable allegations that result from “raw emotion.” People say and do stupid things in Family Court, which makes for great voyeurism, but broadcasting it can do permanent damage to those involved.
The “taxpayers” know nothing about the intricacies of Family Court and are certainly in no position to opine on whether or not it operates in an “efficient, acceptable fashion.” That’s why the Nevada Supreme Court has appointed review committees and hired outside agencies to evaluate — including the 2019 report from the National Center for Juvenile Justice which concluded that our system is quite a good one that should be continued.
Marshal S. Willick is principal of the Willick Law Group, a Las Vegas firm that specializes in family law.