Supreme Court rules regents violated open-meeting law
May 5, 2003
CARSON CITY — The Nevada Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Board of Regents violated the state’s open-meeting law in a September 2000 discussion of a campus drug raid.
Carson District Judge Bill Maddox originally ruled for the regents, saying the discussion by the Campus Environment Committee met Nevada’s open-meeting law agenda requirements because the issue was “germane” to an agenda item.
During a discussion of public documents, Regent Doug Hill brought up a controversial report by the Nevada Division of Investigation about a dormitory raid at UNLV. Officers kicked in two dormitory room doors and handcuffed six students and a dorm adviser.
Hill discussed details of the raid and criticized UNLV police. He said UNLV police officers acted like “Keystone cops” and recommended disarming them. Other members of the board joined in, discussing drug problems on campus and details of the report.
Throughout the discussion, university system counsel Tom Ray repeatedly warned the committee to end the discussion, saying it could violate the open-meeting law.
The next day the UNLV dorm raid and report were discussed by the full board, which instructed system Chancellor Jane Nichols to work with NDI to edit personal and private details from the report so it could be released to the public.
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The Attorney General’s Office argued those actions violated the open-meeting law, but Maddox ruled for the regents.
The high court Friday overruled that decision, saying Maddox “applied an erroneous legal standard” because Nevada’s open-meeting law states that agendas for public meetings must contain “clear and complete” statements of the topics listed.
“By not requiring strict compliance with agenda requirements, the clear and complete standard would be rendered meaningless because the discussion at a public meeting could easily exceed the scope of a stated agenda topic,” the high court ruled.
They said the germane standard is more lenient than the Legislature intended.
The opinion says the NDI report was a matter of substantial public interest, but the agendas didn’t say it would be discussed, which means the discussion was in violation of agenda requirements.
“The committee went too far when it discussed details of the report, criticized the UNLV police department and commented on the impact of drug use on the UNLV campus,” the opinion states.
Attorney General Brian Sandoval said the decision strengthens Nevada’s public meeting laws and ensures that agendas must clearly describe the topic to be discussed.
“It is vital that citizens be afforded every opportunity to participate in their government,” he said, crediting Deputy Attorney General Tina Leiss for her work in winning the case.