LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Lawyers for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department reignited their argument Wednesday over who can and should be allowed to review the phones and computers found in possession of slain investigative reporter Jeff German. Judge Michelle Leavitt told the lawyers — and the accused murderer Robert Telles — that she would draft a protocol based on proposals submitted by each of the parties.
“Everyone has submitted briefs,” Leavitt said as the lawyers wrapped up their arguments.
She continued: “What I think I’ll do is I’ll just circulate a draft order and give the parties an opportunity to make any objections.”
Telles, 46, is representing himself against charges that he stabbed German in the aftermath of Telles losing his re-election bid for Clark County public administrator. German had authored a series of articles in the Review-Journal chronicling problems in that office.
Regardless of what Leavitt decides, it is likely the Nevada Supreme Court will end up having some input.
The Review-Journal and Metro’s lawyers have been arguing about who has the right to review or claim ownership of the phones – and the data inside them – since September, shortly after German’s murder and Telles’s subsequent arrest.
The Review-Journal’s lawyers, spearheaded by First Amendment attorney Ashley Kissinger from the law firm Ballard Spahr in Colorado, argue that the First Amendment dictates the phones and their contents belong to the newspaper. Metro’s lawyers argue, among other things, that the information on the phone could guide the investigation into German’s murder.
“The basic argument is the same,” Matthew Christian, the attorney representing Metro, said. “We didn’t take anything from the R-J. We took things from the victim of a homicide. The reporter’s privilege was, is, and always will be personal. It’s not the R-J’s devices. It’s not their property. They’re intervening in this matter when they have no standing to do so.”
For their part, the newspaper’s attorney reiterated their longstanding position that a third party — often known as a special master — should review the devices’ contents to determine if they are covered by Nevada’s shield law, which protects journalists from revealing their sources and is thought to be one of the strongest in the country.
“No party in the courtroom can overcome this privilege,” Kissinger said. “Not Mr. Telles, not the state, under any circumstances.”
Court documents show that Telles and the Review-Journal have agreed on how they will ask the judge to decide the issues surrounding the phones. Telles and the Review-Journal’s attorney were seen huddling together after court in hushed conversation, Telles alone in handcuffs and shackles in the jury box, and the lawyers outside the jury box.
Leavitt did not say when she would release her draft of the protocol for how the information in the phones would be reviewed. Telles is due back in court for a hearing on the morning of July 5.