Attorney General Aaron Ford is Nevada’s top law enforcement officer. That hasn’t stopped him from flagrantly violating Nevada’s public records law.
This week is Sunshine Week, the annual celebration of the public’s right to know. Unfortunately, there are some things Ford and his office are so desperate to keep you from discovering that they’ve spent the past 10 months flouting Nevada law.
Nevada’s public records law ensures that most documents produced by government agencies and bureaucrats are available to the public. There are a number of good reasons for this. Government officials work for the taxpayers, not the other way around. Because the taxpayers are their bosses, they have a right to see what government officials are doing. Transparency also allows reporters and other government watchdogs to find and expose corruption.
That was my concern when Ford decided to use a private firm to represent Nevada in its lawsuit against opioid manufacturers. To no one’s surprise, Ford selected his past employer, Eglet Prince. In 2015, Ford was a state senator and owed the IRS more than $185,000 in unpaid taxes. Then Eglet Prince hired him. Soon he had enough money to pay off his back taxes. In 2017, Ford became state Senate majority leader. On the last day of the session, he helped sneak through an amendment removing the state’s $10 million cap on outside attorney fees to firms such as Eglet Prince.
Last May, Ford’s office released the contract he signed with Eglet Prince, and “sweetheart” deal didn’t begin to describe it. Eglet Prince could walk away with $350 million, or up to 23 percent of the total settlement. Remember, if not for Ford’s efforts, that amount would have been limited to $10 million. If a future attorney general wants to terminate the contract without cause, Eglet Prince will receive at least $700 an hour for its work.
On May 8, I submitted a records request for documents related to the request for proposal and contract bidding. I asked for emails, memos and documents, including communications from Ford on both personal and government devices. Last week — 10 months later — I received my first documents from that request.
The 32 pages of records were mostly press releases, Google alerts and an email exchange with journalist Dana Gentry. There were no emails or texts from Ford or other higher-ups.
I know the government is inefficient. Pretending it took 10 months to produce a minute’s worth of keyword searches is absurd. Ford’s office says it expects “the remaining records will be available by June 8” and that it will release other records in batches. His office also told me in May that it anticipated “responding to this request by August 13, 2019.”
Ford is either corrupt or he’s plagued by an unfortunate series of coincidences that make him appear corrupt. Ford’s stall tactics in responding to this public records request provide aren’t helping his cause.
Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 10 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.