A new court rule adopted by the Nevada Supreme Court places strict limits on a judge’s ability to seal a civil case in the state, allowing the practice only if the "specified sealing or redaction is justified by identified compelling privacy or safety interests that outweight the public interest in access to the court record." While that leaves a great deal of wiggle room for a judge who wants to seal a case, it does at least establish a standard for sealing, and makes clear that the presumption is that court records should be open.
The rule also requires that sealing not be permitted if it would conceal a "public hazard," which is unfortunately not further defined.
In addition, the rule specifies that agreement between the parties is in itself not enough to justify sealing, and that redacting specific information in a document should be made rather than completely sealing the document.
Also, the rules require that a public docket of all cases must be maintained, and the findings justifying sealing must be made in writing and should be available even if the rest of the case is sealed. These last reforms should eliminate much of the problem with court secrecy — secret court dockets and secretive sealing orders with no paper trail make the system unaccountable to the people — while at the same time preserving the ability to keep certain information confidential when it is justified.
The rules are by no means perfect (for instance, settlement agreements between parties can be sealed fairly easily), but will help reporters navigate the civil court in Nevada better than before.
The court’s action follows an extensive study by a special commission, which came after an exhaustive Las Vegas Review-Journal report last year documented a large number of completely sealed cases that were kept off the public docket.