The Las Vegas Review-Journal on Monday asked a judge to block authorities from accessing the cellphone and computers of slain investigative journalist Jeff German, and instead allow the news agency to conduct a cooperative review that protects the identity of German’s confidential sources.
German, 69, was found stabbed to death earlier this month outside his Las Vegas home, where he had produced much of his work over the past two and a half years, including stories about an official now charged with the murder.
Police seized personal electronic devices the news agency believes he used for his work, including a cellphone, computers and a hard drive. Prosecutors and the Public Defender’s Office now want to search these devices for information that could be related to the criminal case.
Glenn Cook, the editor of the Review-Journal, wrote in an affidavit that the devices could contain drafts of unpublished articles, as well as emails, text messages and other communications the German had with sources that should be considered preferred.
Cook called police access to the devices “particularly dangerous”, saying German relied on confidential sources within the justice system, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Clark County Prosecutor’s Office and the Office of the Public Defender, which represents Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles. in the murder case.
“If Mr. German’s sources are disclosed to anyone, but particularly to people within these same agencies, those people could face retaliation and lifelong career damage,” Cook wrote. “The Review-Journal could also lose access to these important sources, as well as future sources who may not come forward due to the risk of their identities being revealed. The Review-Journal will be severely crippled in its ability to report newsworthy events, especially government misconduct, if it cannot guarantee the absolute confidentiality of its sources and unpublished information.
Cook said Monday that the Review-Journal was not trying to damage the prosecution’s case or trample on Telles’ constitutional rights.
“On the contrary, the RJ wants justice and wants to help,” Cook said. “But the Review-Journal and Jeff German have important rights under the law that must also be protected, and the RJ must play a leading role in ensuring that the most sensitive information on these devices is not seen by authorities.”
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said there are competing interests between the newspaper, prosecutors and defense attorneys, and that “the state and the defense are more interested in protecting the integrity of the criminal case”.
“It is appropriate for a court to hear the parties’ claims so that the court can hopefully fashion a remedy that is satisfactory to all parties involved,” Wolfson said.
Edward Kane, Telles’ court-appointed attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.
“Serious and urgent concerns”
Police arrested Telles in connection with German’s death, and prosecutors later said the murder was “committed in the meantime”.
The newspaper’s lawyers, Ashley Kissinger, Joel Tasca and Kennison Lay, raised “serious and urgent concerns” about the protection of confidential sources and unpublished work, the disclosure of which is prohibited as a journalist’s privilege, citing the first amendment, the State Protection Act, which provides the absolute privilege of the press to disclose newsgathering material, and the Federal Privacy Act.
The Review-Journal argued that German’s devices should never have been seized by Metro, and the company is seeking a protective order from a judge who would establish a protocol and appoint a special handler from outside Las Vegas. to determine if any of the information about German’s devices should be disclosed.
“No party’s interest in reviewing information about seized devices outweighs the strong constitutional and statutory privilege of the press to maintain the confidentiality of such information,” the attorneys wrote.
Earlier this month, Metro police told the newspaper in writing that “no search has begun” and “there is no intention to conduct a search until there is a protocol. will not have been approved by the judge”. Prosecutors also agreed that they would not seek to review the information-gathering documents without a judge’s permission.
German left his work computer at the newspaper’s offices in March 2020 amid the pandemic shutdowns, and he used other electronic devices while working remotely, Cook said.
Prosecutors suggested the devices might contain threats directed at German by Telles, but “provided no factual basis for this speculation,” the newspaper’s attorneys wrote.
Speaking to reporters after one of Telles’ first hearings, Wolfson called the evidence against the defendant “compelling”.
Review-Journal’s attorneys also argued that Telles couldn’t show any information about the devices would help his defense.
Telles’ lawyer suggested the devices may contain evidence of threats against German or evidence that others may have been motivated to harm him, according to Monday’s filing.
“The state may point to Mr. German’s detailed and unflattering reporting of the accused as providing a motive for the homicide,” the attorneys for the Review-Journal wrote. “And the defendant can point to any other subjects of Mr. German’s reporting during his career who might be upset by his reports of their misconduct and would have a similar motive to harm him.”
Protection of confidential sources
Telles, 45, was arrested in connection with German’s death after his killer was caught on CCTV approaching his home.
According to Telles’ arrest report, German was found with seven stab wounds to his torso, as well as wounds to his arms and hands that appeared to be defensive. Telles’ DNA matched DNA found under German’s fingernails, officials said.
Earlier this year, German reported a series of investigative stories about Telles’ conduct at work. German was working on a potential follow-up story in the weeks before his death.
After learning that the journalist’s devices had been seized as part of the investigation, the newspaper informed police and prosecutors that information about them was subject to legal protections.
In a letter Friday to prosecutors, Metro and the public defender’s office, the paper’s lawyers asked to “amicably” settle the dispute over electronic devices before filing the motion.
Although the newspaper did not receive an immediate response to the letter, lawyers for the Review-Journal wrote that police and prosecutors are “engaged in a continuing, good faith effort to resolve these issues amicably. “.
Cook said German relied on confidential sources to back up his reporting.
“Given the alleged actions of the defendant in this case, a public official accused of having gone so far as to murder the author of negative reports about him, this concern for Review-Journal sources should not be under -estimated,” the newspaper’s lawyers said. wrote.
In a matching affidavit included in Monday’s filing, attorney Brian Berman said information he provided to German for another story could be found on the devices.
Berman represents a Las Vegas junior high school teacher who said she suffered retaliation after reporting alleged strip searches of students.
German wrote two stories about the controversy.
Berman said he provided information to German that he “expressly agreed not to publish”, although Berman observed the reporter taking notes on his computer.
“I fear that if the confidential information I provided to Mr. German is revealed to the government, it could result in further retaliation and harm to my client,” Berman wrote. “I am afraid the information will fall into the hands of someone who has an ax to grind against the Review-Journal and who would expose it out of spite. … For these reasons, if I had known that my confidential communications with Mr. German would end up in the hands of others, I would have chosen not to do so.
Contact David Ferrara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0394. Follow @randompoker on Twitter. Review-Journal editor Katelyn Newberg contributed to this report.
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