Backlash builds against judge’s decision in CCSD email case

Victor Joecks

What is one thing that NPRI, the ACLU, Nevada Press Association, liberal columnist Steve Sebelius, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board all agree on?

That District Court Judge Douglas Smith's recent ruling denying NPRI’s request for the government-issued email address of CCSD teachers was a terrible decision.

You never want to lose in court, but the backlash against Judge Smith’s bizarre decision at least provides a chance to highlight the importance of Nevada’s public records law.

And NPRI is going to appeal this decision to the Nevada Supreme Court, which has a history of overturning District-Court decisions that have limited citizen’s access to public records. We’re appealing not just for the records themselves, but to fight the dangerous precedents contained in Judge Smith’s decision.

For now, here’s a round-up of the disagreement with the decision.

ACLU attorney Allen Lichtenstein:

But the Nevada Policy Research Institute is appealing to the Nevada Supreme Court, and its chances of a reversed ruling are favorable in the opinion of Allen Lichtenstein, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

“The Nevada Supreme Court has been quite clear that government records are public, with very limited exceptions,” he said Tuesday, referring to the court’s interpretation of a state law requiring government agencies to “foster democratic principles by providing members of the public with access to inspect and copy public books.” …

“It’s a public record,” Lichtenstein said. “I don’t know how the (Supreme) Court could view it otherwise.”

Nevada Press Association president Barry Smith:

“I’m not following the judge’s logic,” said Barry Smith, who helped craft Nevada’s public records laws. “This is clearly a matter of public record.”

RJ columnist Steve Sebelius:

Judge Smith then says the database is confidential, based on NRS 239B.040(1)(a), which says “if a person or his or her agent provides the electronic mail address or telephone number of the person to a governmental entity for the purpose of or in the course of communicating with that governmental agency,” then it’s confidential.

But that doesn’t seem to apply here. Clark County teachers didn’t supply their addresses to a governmental agency; they were assigned that address by a governmental agency.

RJ editorial:

Judge Smith’s decision turned Nevada’s public records law upside down in upholding the school district’s refusal to release teacher email addresses to the Nevada Policy Research Institute. …

Yet Judge Smith practically mocked NPRI’s argument for being “based on only the general presumption of openness contained in the Nevada Public Records Act.” In other words, for being based on law. Judge Smith, on the other hand, completely misread the law in ruling the email database confidential. …

NPRI announced it will appeal Judge Smith’s ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court. Good. This poorly reasoned decision begs to be overturned.