The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada last week filed a lawsuit to protect the public’s right to access 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.
The ACLU of Nevada is representing Our Nevada Judges, a community organization that educates the public about the courts and reports on judicial activity. The case, Falconi v. Eighth Judicial District Court, Case No. 84947, is before the Nevada Supreme Court.
The public has a right to access our courts under the First Amendment. Because the public elects its judges in Nevada, First Amendment access to the courts is critical to government transparency so that the public can hold courts accountable for misconduct. Without access, Nevadans have no mechanism to ensure family court proceedings are fair or honest.
Multiple incidents over the last several years have highlighted the need for accountability within the family court system, including incidents of judges acting unprofessionally towards domestic violence survivors and children. Transparency and public accountability are especially crucial for cases that involve parties who have engaged in cycles of domestic violence and often maintain financial advantages. Closing court proceedings without cause increases the likelihood that the most vulnerable members of our community are hidden away by the individuals and systems that have victimized them.
ACLU of Nevada Executive Director Athar Haseebullah said:
“Open and transparent courts provide for a fair judiciary. 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.”
ACLU of Nevada Senior Staff Attorney Sophia Romero said:
“It is unconstitutional and a serious civil rights violation to block the public from being able to observe judicial proceedings, especially considering that we have an elected judiciary. When added to the vulnerable population served by the family courts, it creates an environment that is ripe for abuse. This new rule violates the First Amendment and undercuts confidence in an already frail family court system.”
ABOUT THE ACLU OF NEVADA
The ACLU of Nevada is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to the defense and advancement of civil liberties and civil rights for all people in Nevada since 1966.