CARSON CITY — In a dispute over access to Gov. Jim Gibbons’ e-mail, a judge balked this week at following a long-standing federal court requirement that government agencies produce an index of documents sought in public-record cases.
Carson City District Court Judge Bill Maddox instead said Thursday that the e-mails must first be reviewed in private by a special court master in the case brought by the Reno Gazette-Journal. But he left open the possibility of making public an index at a later point.
“We’re not asking for someone’s grocery list or weekend plans,” Gazette-Journal attorney Scott Glogovac said in arguing for an index that would have basic information — but not detailed content — that would help narrow the list of documents being requested.
“This isn’t some novel concept,” Glogovac said, referring to a 1973 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., which puts the burden on government agencies to produce a log or index. That decision has been widely followed throughout the country over many years.
The newspaper’s lawsuit claims the Gibbons administration “in essence told the RGJ ‘take our word for it'” that the e-mails were privileged. The suit asks for a court order to either compel the administration to release the e-mails or provide the log.
State attorney Jim Spencer said the 1973 federal court ruling may require the indexes in public record disputes, but he questioned whether such summaries had to be given to lawyers seeking the full documents.
Spencer turned over to Maddox a thick envelope containing copies of the e-mails between the governor and several individuals, sent and received between Jan. 1 and June 4, saying he favored the private review by the court’s special master, Dave Nielsen.
Spencer maintains the newspaper’s lawsuit seeking copies of the e-mails should be rejected because the e-mails aren’t public records or don’t exist.
Spencer, chief of staff for Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto who’s representing Gibbons, also says there weren’t any in the January-June period between Gibbons and five of the 10 individuals listed in the lawsuit.
Spencer also contends that e-mails between Gibbons and the other five, including first lady Dawn Gibbons and three current or former top staffers, aren’t public records or are privileged.
Maddox set a Dec. 19 deadline for Glogovac to submit additional written briefs in the case.