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Sparks judge reverses course on media access to court hearings after being sued (updated)

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Update: Falconi prevailed on camera access in the court, but District Court Judge Connie Steinheimer did not award attorney fees.

“Once Justice of the Peace Kevin Higgins allowed camera access, we have since been allowed to record and publish the Sparks Justice Court proceedings in the State of Nevada vs. Jaymie Mitchell,” Falconi told This Is Reno. “Because the filing of the lawsuit was the catalyst to triggering a correction, we sought to recover our legal costs. Our Nevada Judges, Inc. was denied its request to impose a cost award against Judge Higgins and the Sparks Justice Court.” 

Sparks Judge Kevin Higgins this week reversed course about media access in his courtroom after being sued by Our Nevada Judges. Higgins denied Our Nevada Judges from videotaping a court proceeding of a local attorney facing criminal charges.

After This Is Reno first reported on the situation, Higgins ordered Alex Falconi of Our Nevada Judges to court to explain why he wanted to cover the hearing. 

This Is Reno then filed a media access form to cover that hearing, which was scheduled for tomorrow morning. However, Higgins granted This Is Reno’s media access request today but then vacated the hearing. 

Falconi was also granted permission today to cover the criminal hearing before Higgins on Feb. 1 with no explanation.

The Sparks court also modified its media request form after Falconi filed suit. The new form includes a provision that news media personnel must notify attorneys in court hearings via an online service and at their own expense.

But Falconi said that requirement violates state court rules. The state supreme court mandates that the court administrator is responsible for notifying parties of media requests, not those seeking media access.

Falconi initially said Higgins’ denial to shoot video of proceedings was “very odd” since he submits similar requests in courts around the state. 

Falconi today issued the following statement:

“The Supreme Court of Nevada has done a tremendous service by promulgating their camera access rules, publishing details on it, and establishing the presumption, and when I see resistance like this from the judiciary, it’s an effort to circumvent these rules,” he said. “Unfortunately, I cannot say that this is an isolated incident. 

“Other judges, like Municipal Court Judge Cedric Kerns, Justice of the Peace Ryan Sullivan, and District Court Judge David Hardy, have in the past flouted the Supreme Court’s camera access presumption without making the mandatory findings.” 

Falconi also has litigation pending against the Eighth Judicial District Court’s Family Division with support from the ACLU of Nevada.

He said he expects to get back costs from the challenge.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
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. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.

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