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UNLV refuses to release dental school audit that cost $366K

The UNLV dental school spent more than $350,000 to investigate the reuse of single-use dental implants, but more than a year later the school won’t release the report or even provide information about the scope of the attorneys’ work.

In March 2018, the school announced that Dr. Phillip Devore was reusing dental abutments even though the items were designed to be discarded after one use. He said he was sterilizing the abutments.

The school hired the Dentons law firm to investigate the issue and school billing practices. When the Las Vegas Review-Journal requested the report in April, the school initially responded that there was no report.

“UNLV has no public records responsive to your request,” the records staff wrote. “To the extent that UNLV may have had communications with Dentons, any such are confidential and protected by the attorney-client privilege.”

But billing statements show that in March 2018 Dentons billed UNLV for 28 hours at $550 an hour to “review … preparations of report” and make “final report revisions.”

UNLV Regent Trevor Hayes said the school should release the report.

“I’m just one of 13 people and ultimately it’s UNLV’s privilege to maintain and waive, but I think they should waive the attorney-client privilege and release the information to the public,” he said. “It’s a public dental school that has the public as clients and they should know what is in the audit.”

Scope redacted

Nevada Press Association Executive Director Richard Karpel said attorney-client privilege shouldn’t apply to an audit funded with public money.

“Aside from the dubious merit of their claim of confidentiality, UNLV doesn’t inspire a great deal of public confidence by clamming up — especially after they promised to conduct an investigation of this incident,” he wrote in an email exchange.

UNLV spokeswoman Cindy Brown said the money to pay for the report came from school investment income, but the audit results and the scope of work are not public.

“All redacted portions in the (Dentons billing and contract) records provided to you constitute confidential communications protected by the attorney-client privilege,” she said in an emailed statement.

In total, the billing statements show more than $366,000 of university money was paid to Dentons for the investigation.

The contract with Dentons, signed September 2017 and provided in July to the Review-Journal, has the whole scope of work blacked out as well as detailed budget figures.

Review-Journal General Counsel Benjamin Lipman wrote to the school Tuesday, demanding UNLV release the records.

“When public entities contract for services from outside vendors, those contracts are public records,” he wrote. “A list of the scope of work to be conducted by a law firm is not an attorney-client privileged communication.”

Relationship forging

The contract shows Dentons promised to reduce its standard hourly rates of $425 to $820 — depending on employee — by 15 percent to help “forge a relationship” with the school. The top billing rate was supposed to be $695 an hour for the contract, according to the engagement letter and attachments.

But UNLV still paid $800 an hour for some work. Three hours of phone calls between Dec. 13, 2017, and March 12, 2018, cost the school $2,400, records show. The bill says Dentons partner Dan Barnowski should be billed but also says that the call was for outside professional services expert fees for UNLV, so it’s unclear what the school purchased for the money.

The school also paid nearly $5,400 in travel expenses for Dentons staff, including two hotel rooms that apparently cost $533 each, records show.

Devore, Dentons officials and Barnowski, who has since left Dentons, did not respond to requests for comment.

Contact Arthur Kane at akane@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter.

Dentons US LLP letter to UNLV by Las Vegas Review-Journal on Scribd

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