Lawyers for the Las Vegas Review-Journal are discussing an agreement with Las Vegas police and prosecutors that would have the newspaper, instead of a a third party team, look over slain investigative reporter Jeff German’s personal devices.
“The process we’re trying to work out is one where the RJ will initially review the materials themselves,” said Benjamin Lipman, the Review-Journal’s chief legal officer, after Wednesday’s hearing before Judge Michelle Leavitt.
Lipman said while the Review-Journal was confident that the third party team would review the materials confidentially, “we still find it preferable for us to be the ones to review them in the first instance.”
The two sides were in court Wednesday, as was Robert Telles, who is accused of killing German in September 2022 over articles German had written about Telles’ tenure as public administrator, a low-level elected position in Clark County. Telles, who has been acting as his own lawyer, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of murder.
Since the Metropolitan Police Department seized German’s cellphone and five of his personal computers from the crime scene and his northwest Las Vegas home after the killing, the Review-Journal has been fighting to protect those devices from being searched by authorities.
German’s confidential sources need to remain confidential, both for their own protection, but also to protect the institution of journalism, the newspaper has argued.
In October, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that Nevada’s shield law, which protects journalists from forcibly revealing sources, continues to apply after a reporter’s death.
As part of that ruling, the top court rejected a plan approved by Leavitt that would have the devices searched by two Metro detectives and two prosecutors, and called on the lower court to go with the Review-Journal’s plan to have the devices searched by a team of special hearing masters made up of a former U.S. magistrate judge and a former Clark County district attorney.
Since then, however, the sides have been working on a framework of how the devices should be searched.
In an email after the hearing, Metro’s lawyer, Matthew Christian, declined to comment and referred a reporter to Metro’s public information office.
“LVMPD hopes this resolution will allow the case to now proceed in the normal course so that Mr. German’s family is not further delayed in obtaining justice,” a Metro spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
In court Wednesday, when Christian told Leavitt about the possible plan to let the Review-Journal review the devices, the judge was noticeably surprised.
“You guys are kidding, right?” Leavitt said.
“Nope,” Christian said.
“Anything that moves it along and you all agree on, I’m for,” Leavitt said.
“Well, the concern is that we’re not moving along,” Christian said.
Lipman said the plan so far proposes that the actual devices will remain in Metro’s custody, but that Metro police will provide images from the devices that the Review-Journal will look at.
“The devices themselves are evidence and will not leave LVMPD’s possession,” the Metro spokesperson said in the email.
A follow-up hearing has been set for Dec. 6, Lipman said.
Contact Brett Clarkson at email@example.com.