The conservative magazine National Review is suing Nevada’s Department of Insurance to obtain records of nearly a dozen Silver State Exchange program workers who might have criminal histories. The Las Vegas Review- Journal has joined the lawsuit.
Filed Friday in Carson City District Court, the lawsuit comes nearly seven weeks after a reporter for the bi- monthly magazine was repeatedly denied information by the Division of Insurance. Attorneys J. Colby Williams and Donald J. Campbell are representing the Review-Journal.
According to the lawsuit, National Review investigative reporter Jillian Melchior asked division spokesman Jake Sunderland whether he could explain how the Division of Insurance might have hired workers with criminal backgrounds as “navigators” to help enroll Nevada residents in the exchange program under the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.
But Sunderland, the lawsuit claims, “refused to provide any meaningful assistance and instead became extremely aggravated and, in fact, hung up the telephone on Ms. Melchior.”
Attorneys for the two publications contend that the information is a matter of public record that, by law, can be disseminated under the Nevada Public Records Act.
They state that the navigators deal with highly confidential information, including Social Security numbers, and any convicted criminals who obtain such information could “pose a significant threat to the privacy and safety” of Silver State Exchange participants.
“The purpose of the (Nevada Public Records Act) is to ensure the accountability of the government to the public by facilitating public access to vital information about governmental activities,” the lawsuit states.
Melchior said she originally asked for the information after she ran several names of Nevada’s so-called “navigators” through a Nevada criminal-court database, and came up with several possible matches.
“But without more identifying information, I was unable to verify whether these eleven navigators actually had the criminal histories I had flagged,” she wrote. “After all, some of them had very common names.”
On Nov. 21, Melchior decided to formally ask the division in writing to produce records that would discuss the application and/or hiring of the 11 current or former navigators who she believes might have criminal convictions.
On Dec. 2, Amy L. Parks, the division’s chief insurance counsel, said she could not legally disclose such records. However, she also said that all applicants for positions of navigator must submit a fingerprint card in order for the state to conduct a background check but that those results are still confidential.
When Melchior later asked in writing whether such records even existed or whether the division simply could not release them, the division clarified its position, saying that releasing any records regarding a navigator was prohibited, whether it reflected a “positive or negative criminal history.”
“A record of criminal history or any records of criminal history of the United States,” it countered, “… must be used solely for the purpose for which the record is requested. No person who receives information relating to records of criminal history … may disseminate the information further without express authority of law or in accordance with a court order.” NRS 179A.110 was cited.
But the same statute states that electronic or printed news media are exempted because they are working in a professional capacity “for communication to the public.”
Contact reporter Tom Ragan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5512.