Prison parole hearings must balance individual privacy with the public’s right to know, often resulting in conflict. In Nevada, convicted sex offender Robert Stockmeier sued the Lovelock State Prison after discovering the common practice of private psychological evaluations for determining parole might violate the state’s open meeting law.
In an earlier decision, the district court dismissed Stockmeier’s complaint, concluding the open meetings issue was irrelevant, based on the circumstances of the case. On Monday, the Supreme Court reviewed the dismissal and affirmed because the complaint stated a claim for monetary damages.
The Nevada law, first adopted in 1960, allows an affected person to sue in court to ask the court to declare void any action taken in violation of the open meeting requirement or to prevent the government from repeating an offending procedure, but not to collect monetary damages.
The Nevada Supreme Court did not decide whether the evaluations violated Nevada law. However, because of strict language used to define the law’s purpose, most government decision-making falls under the open meeting requirement, said Barry Smith, the executive director of the Nevada Press Association.
The language states, “The legislature finds and declares that all public bodies exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.” Most other states do not have quite as strict open meeting laws, allowing some procedures similar to the Stockmeier evaluation to occur in seclusion.