The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada last week filed a lawsuit on behalf of Our Nevada Judges to ensure public access to family court proceedings.
“Nearly half of the district courts in Clark County are family courts, but a recent rule in the Eighth Judicial District Court allows for closing court proceedings to the public without cause,” ACLU representatives said.
At issue is whether the Eighth Judicial District Court in Las Vegas can prevent Our Nevada Judges, which documents court hearings with extensive video coverage, from shooting video of family court proceedings.
A case at that court in May showed what is at stake. Attorney Luke Busby had to intervene for Our Nevada Judges in order to get access to a hearing, but the attorney for the defense in the case fought Alexander Falconi, who runs Our Nevada Judges.
“This is a case that involves a significant element of public interest,” attorney Luke Busby argued in May. “The public has a strong interest in civil proceedings related to [this] matter.”
Cases involving minors, however, have some attorneys arguing court hearings and procedures should remain confidential.
“This entire case is about a CPS (Child Protective Services) report … everything in the case is confidential under [state law],” attorney Felicia Galati said in response to Busby. “It’s the information and the documents.”
But the judge disagreed with Galati. She allowed some access for coverage.
Falconi said he frequently has to battle attorneys – and judges – in order to provide video coverage of court hearings. Last fall, he said District Court Judge Barry Breslow’s staff blocked access to a court hearing in a case he had been covering at length.
Upon challenging the denial, and This Is Reno coverage of the situation, the court updated its media access policies.
The rule change at the Eighth Judicial District Court means Falconi could be prevented from covering any child custody or domestic cases. And judges have to enforce the rule.
“Now, under the broader language of [the court’s rules], the ability for a single party to demand private proceedings and exclude those not involved directly in the case now applies to all family law matters, and there is no longer a ‘good cause’ requirement for exclusion of parents, guardians, siblings and witnesses,” the lawsuit notes.
That’s a violation of the First Amendment and therefore unconstitutional, the ACLU is arguing.
“Open and transparent courts provide for a fair judiciary,” said ACLU Executive Director Athar Haseebullah. “In a court proceeding where one party holds all the cards and the other party is struggling to get by, and with no right to counsel in traditional family court proceedings, the probability of injustice rises. It is essential that family court proceedings remain open and transparent.”
Our Nevada Judges wants the rule change deemed unconstitutional.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.