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Back in August of 2013, we at NPRI went before Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Douglas Smith in our lawsuit against the Clark County School District, which we filed after CCSD refused to provide us with its directory of government-issued email addresses for the school district’s 17,000 teachers.
It seemed about as open-and-shut a case as one could imagine — what we were seeking clearly constituted a “public record” under Nevada law, and we were hard-pressed to imagine a scenario under which any judge could rule otherwise. Yet Judge Smith, in a decision that drew widespread condemnation from across the ideological spectrum, granted CCSD’s motion to dismiss the case — meaning he ruled in CCSD’s favor without even allowing for an evidentiary hearing on the pertinent facts of the case. Judge Smith would later admit that he based his decision not on the law but rather on his personal feelings regarding NPRI’s (legally irrelevant) motives for wanting the records.
I thought it was about as bad a call as I’d ever see in my life — that is, of course, until Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called that slant on second and goal from the one yard line with time ticking down in this year’s Super Bowl.*
Unfortunately for Carroll — and for millions of heartbroken Seahawks fans — in sports there is no do-over, at least not when it comes to an on-field decision a coach makes. But fortunately for us, in our system of justice, when one judge gets it wrong, there’s a way to make it right.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Nevada Supreme Court heard our appeal of the district court judge’s decision in our case against CCSD, and while the Court declined to issue an immediate ruling at the conclusion of the arguments, I thought Joe Becker, who leads NPRI’s litigation center and is representing us in this case, did a superb job of laying out the arguments as to why the lower-court decision was erroneous.
In particular, Joe stressed that the statutory language relevant in this case — found under Nevada’s Public Record Act — starts with the assumption that all government records are public records available for inspection unless a record is explicitly exempted from the Act — which the teacher email addresses we’re requesting are not.
He also cited multiple decisions by the Nevada Supreme Court itself that have reinforced NPRI’s plain reading of the Act, decisions in which these same justices held that government’s obligation to disclose information under the Act is to be “construed liberally,” while any limits on disclosure are to be “construed narrowly.”
As Francis McCabe of the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports, the justices on Wednesday seemed “perplexed” by CCSD counsel’s arguments as to why they ought to abandon the Court’s long-standing precedent on this issue.
While we won’t know the outcome of this case for some time, what we do know is this: The need for open, accountable government is one of the most important principles guaranteeing the rights and liberties of citizens, and that’s what this case is about.
And, win or lose, our fight to uphold that principle will continue.
*Feel free to skip this section if you have no interest whatsoever, but a surprising number of you have written to ask me what I thought about that controversial play call at the end of the Super Bowl. (Though maybe it shouldn’t be so surprising, given how often I’ve noted my love for sports in this space.) So for whatever it’s worth, here’s my take.
The conventional wisdom is that Carroll committed an epic blunder by not simply giving the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch on what turned out to be that fateful play. I don’t quite see it that way. I’m fine with calling a pass play in that situation, but my beef is with the type of pass Seattle called. If you’re going to pass, then have quarterback Russell Wilson roll out, which not only would have played to his strengths but also would have given him options — he could run it in, pass it if someone was open, or throw it away if there was nothing there (and then let Lynch run it on third down).
By calling a quick throw on a slant, Carroll basically took all that decision-making away from Wilson. That play has Wilson take the snap, drop back, and throw immediately to a spot without taking any time to see how the play develops. Which means that if the defensive back happens to jump the route (as New England’s Malcolm Butler did), you’re out of luck, because the decision on where the ball is going is already made. Butler still had to make a great play to pick it off, but Wilson never should have been put in a situation where so much was left to chance.
Thanks for reading — and be sure to check back next week for my thoughts on Deflate-gate. (No, not really.)
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