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Survey: Most Nevada Courts Lack Public Online Portals

A comprehensive new survey commissioned by the Nevada Open Government Coalition reveals how few Nevada courts make documents freely accessible online, creating major challenges for journalists seeking to report in a timely fashion on issues in the state’s smaller counties and keeping the public in the dark on critical legal matters. 

The research of all 17 district courts, conducted by journalist Daniel Rothberg, aimed to understand the obstacles faced by journalists, researchers and the general public when accessing court records from Nevada's district courts and what, if any, progress is being made toward resolving the issues. 

“This report is a wakeup call that the state’s courts are not uniformly in the 21st century,” said NOGC President Michelle Rindels. “We want court administrators, policymakers and others to know there is broad-based interest in modernizing these systems to ensure public court proceedings are not just public in name only, but in a meaningful way.”

Among the key findings:

  1. Limited online access: Although all 17 district courts maintain static websites, only the courts serving Clark and Washoe counties offer online portals through which the public can search cases, and only Clark County’s system offers direct online access to the documents themselves. In other districts, access to court filings remains predominantly restricted to in-person visits or phone requests that can take days or weeks for limited staff to fulfill.

  2. Lack of funds to improve the system: Many courts report insufficient funds to create public-facing, searchable portals and overburdened staff as challenges to filling requests.

  3. Fees applied unevenly: Courts can charge to provide records, and have discretion on whether to waive fees for specific groups such as government entities, media outlets, or law enforcement agencies.

  4. Improvements on the horizon? A $25 million infusion from the American Rescue Plan is helping expand e-filing within the state. Although this improves access for parties in a case, it will not necessarily offer the general public an online portal for viewing documents.

Tabitha Mueller, a politics reporter at The Nevada Independent, emphasized the toll these challenges take on her work, especially in writing about proceedings in Carson City District Court, where many major election cases originate.

"Accessing court information quickly and efficiently is essential for informing the public,” she said. “The current setup often results in delays, hindering our ability to provide timely and accurate reporting."

Katelyn Newberg, a reporter at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, said at an NOGC panel on the issue in March that wider online access would ensure court documents aren’t limited to just a handful of people who learn over time how to navigate the system and learn the right person and time to call a court.

“Having an open court system lets us follow these cases through the system, continue to report on them and give people access to information, which really is a basic foundation of both journalism and … our democracy as a whole,” Newberg said.

NOGC urges decisionmakers to devote time and resources to addressing these deficiencies and modernizing court document access systems for the good of all Nevadans. Our organization plans to continue pushing for improvements and conducting research that illuminates what stands in the way of progress. 

Read the full report below.

NOGC would like to thank the Las Vegas Review-Journal, The Nevada Independent, Our Nevada Judges and This is Reno for their financial support of this research.

NOGC Access to Courts White Paper
Download PDF • 2.14MB

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