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As election looms, lawsuit seeks Lombardo emails to consultants

The Metropolitan Police Department is improperly withholding emails sent by Sheriff Joe Lombardo to political campaign consultants, according to a lawsuit filed just days before a primary election in which the sheriff appears on the ballot.

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Bradley Schrager on behalf of a “background research” firm called Due Diligence Group LLC, claims the department’s justifications for withholding the emails violate the law and are designed to cover up alleged wrongdoing.

Lombardo, the front-runner in the Republican primary for governor, was elected sheriff in 2014, and re-elected in 2018. His campaign declined to comment on the action, which was filed in Clark County District Court on Friday. The primary election is Tuesday.

According to the complaint, Due Diligence made public records requests for emails from the sheriff to campaign consultants Mike Slanker of November, Inc., and Ryan Erwin of Red Rock Strategies, as well as former Nevada Lt. Gov, Mark Hutchison.

Metro Police provided a few emails, but refused to provide the rest, first claiming that they were not related to official business, and later asserting that they were privileged under the deliberative process privilege, which shields advice given to policymakers by aides.

But the suit alleges that both justifications are wrong.

“First, the sample emails that the (department) produced include information directly related to government conduct and the provision of public service, including Nevada’s COVID policies, a (police department) deputy’s presentation analyzing Clark County and Nevada’s economic status, emails from a disgruntled citizen regarding Sheriff Lombardo’s mismanagement of the fingerprint bureau, and press releases from Governor (Steve) Sisolak regarding new and pending state legislation,” the petition reads.

“Second, the timing and nature of the sample emails that the (department) produced show that Sheriff Lombardo was using his government-issued email address to engage in political activity during his hours of employment,” the document adds. “That, in itself, sheds light on his provision of public services, as it is directly in contrast to his duty to avoid conflicts between public duties and private interests.”

Under Nevada law and related court rulings, documents that relate to the provision of public services are considered public records.

After Due Diligence objected to the delays in releasing the balance of the documents, the police department said the records were confidential because they related to deliberations. But Schrager argues in his brief that since the consultants are not government employees, the privilege doesn’t apply.

“It cannot be said that the emails were unrelated to his duties as sheriff, yet also included ideas, opinions and viewpoints which were predecisional and deliberative to an (police department) policy decision,” he writes. “This puts (the department’s) earlier and later justifications for withholding the emails directly at odds.”

“The law is clear: if the communications are related to government conduct or the provision of a public service — which these are — then they are public records subject to disclosure,” the lawsuit states. “Though the emails were exchanged with the Sheriff’s campaign consultants in furtherance of his efforts to win his race for governor, this is not enough to show they were not public.”

The lawsuit asks the court to order the department to release all the emails, for a finding that the department violated the state public records law, and for costs and attorney’s fees. It is set to be heard by Clark County District Court Judge Adriana Escobar.

Contact Steve Sebelius at SSebelius@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0253. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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