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State of Nevada v. Telles

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  1. Newsgathering

Court: Justice Court, Las Vegas Township, Clark County, Nevada

Date Filed: Sept. 27, 2022

Updates: During a hearing on Sept. 28, 2022, Justice of the Peace Karen Bennett-Haron said she did not have jurisdiction to hear arguments concerning the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s request to prevent authorities from searching Jeff German’s electronic devices. On Oct. 5, 2022, a judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevents Nevada law enforcement from inspecting or searching reporter German’s electronic devices for 15 days. On Oct. 10, 2022, the Reporters Committee and 54 news organizations filed a second friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Review-Journal with the District Court of Clark County, Nevada. During a hearing on Oct. 11, 2022, Clark County District Court Judge Susan Johnson granted the Review-Journal’s request to block authorities from immediately searching German’s electronic devices. The judge asked the parties to discuss a possible process for reviewing the journalist’s devices. On Oct. 19, 2022, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department appealed Judge Johnson’s preliminary injunction order to the Nevada Supreme Court. As a result, Judge Johnson stayed further proceedings while the appeal is pending and denied the Reporters Committee’s request to participate as amicus, instructing RCFP to seek leave to appear as amicus in the appellate proceedings. On Aug. 7, 2023, the Reporters Committee and 53 news organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the Nevada Supreme Court in support of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The brief highlights the robust, nationwide consensus that reporter-source confidentiality is essential to effective newsgathering and argues that the Nevada Shield Law bars the search. On Oct. 5, 2023, the Nevada Supreme Court held that the protection of the state’s shield law survives a reporter’s death and that the district court “abused its discretion” by entering a search protocol that would have allowed Las Vegas law enforcement officials to review the materials found on Jeff German’s electronic devices. In reversing and remanding the lower court’s decision, the state Supreme Court directed the district court to enter a new protocol that tasks a third-party team with conducting the search.

Background: In early September 2022, Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles was arrested and charged with the murder of Jeff German, a veteran investigative reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Telles had been the subject of investigative stories German reported about problems with the county administrator’s leadership. He later made public comments attacking German’s reporting and ultimately lost his bid for re-election.

As part of their investigation into German’s murder, Las Vegas law enforcement officials seized the reporter’s electronic devices, which are likely to contain reporter-source communications and other newsgathering materials belonging to German and the Review-Journal.

The Review-Journal sought a protective order that would prevent the district attorney and public defender from reviewing the contents of German’s electronic devices until the newspaper has had the chance to examine them and determine the extent to which the devices’ contents are privileged. In its motion seeking the order, filed on Sept. 26, 2022, the newspaper argued that the newsgathering materials are protected from compelled disclosure under the Nevada Shield Law — one of the strongest shield laws in the country — and the federal Privacy Protection Act.

Our Position: The court should grant the Review-Journal’s motion for a protective order.

  • Reporters rely on confidential communications with sources to report the news.
  • Permitting review of privileged information on the seized devices would chill newsgathering and deprive the public of important information.

Quote: “Permitting government investigators to freely review privileged information from the Seized Devices threatens to chill vital newsgathering activity and could subject numerous sources, including sources inside government agencies, to retaliation, harassment, and personal harm — precisely the outcomes the Shield Law was enacted to prevent.”

Related: RCFP Executive Director Bruce D. Brown made the following statement in response to German’s murder: “The Reporters Committee mourns the death of Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Jeff German and sends our deepest condolences to his family and his colleagues for this unfathomable loss. His brutal murder is a shocking reminder that physical risks to journalists are a real threat not only in other countries but here at home. Journalism at its best holds public officials and powerful figures to account, and we must protect the journalists who do this vital work.”

Nevada Supreme Court brief: 

District Court brief:

Justice Court brief:

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