LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada judge on Wednesday decided not to punish Las Vegas police for the first time they looked at a murdered investigative journalist’s cell phone since he was killed in September and said the state Supreme Court should decide whether a thorough investigation will be carried out. homicide detectives’ checking of a reporter’s electronic devices will result in the inappropriate disclosure of confidential notes and sources.
“I am inclined to deny the sanction petition because it would adversely affect the criminal case,” said Clark County District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt.
The judge also denied the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s requests to appoint a third-party special master to review the material and order the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department to pay what the paper’s lawyer claims amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees and court fees. costs incurred during the dispute on this issue.
Leavitt said she believes a court order not to disclose confidential material may be enough to prevent public disclosure of protected material in the murder case of Robert “Rob” Telles, a former Democratic-elected district representative accused of stabbing a Review- reporter. Journal to Jeff Herman on the street. Herman’s house on September 2.
Telles, who was the focus of Herman’s investigative journalism, was removed from his position as public administrator of Clark County after his arrest and remains in jail without bail. He has been charged with murder and is currently scheduled for a jury trial in April.
On Wednesday, Leavitt did not push back the trial date, but acknowledged that the police investigation into Herman’s death had “stalled” and would not be completed until the state Supreme Court decided whether names and unpublished material could be in the spotlight. Herman devices are protected from disclosure by the First Amendment and Nevada law.
Telles’ new attorney in the murder case, Damian Sheets, attended the hearing but did not speak.
The judge accepted Police Department Attorney Matthew Christian’s explanation that the initial search was necessary “immediately after the discovery of the body.”
The judge, prosecutors and attorneys for the department, newspapers and Telles have acknowledged that there is little legal precedent when it comes to how to protect promises of anonymity or confidentiality given to people that may be in a murdered reporter’s files.
Lawyer Ashley Kissinger, representing the Review-Journal, described the so-called reporter’s privilege to protect sources as “critical to a well-functioning democracy.”
“This is the most important aspect of what makes the press in the United States free and independent,” Kissinger told the judge, “and distinguishes us from the rest of the world in the field of free speech.”
In October, the Review-Journal received a court order preventing police from accessing the devices. The Police Department appealed the decision.
The judge later stated that she believed a court order to prevent public disclosure of information obtained from Herman’s devices would allow police and prosecutors to complete their investigation without violating promises of confidentiality made by the dead reporter and requested by the newspaper.
Leavitt said she was “inclined” to overturn the preliminary injunction she had issued in October and to approve the protection order “to protect the rights of the parties.”
“So you can all send this back to the Supreme Court,” she said.
Christian assured Leavitt that although investigators gained access to Herman’s cell phone shortly after he was found dead, homicide detectives did not conduct a thorough forensic search. He said the phone and five other computer devices obtained on the basis of a warrant from Herman’s house remain in police custody.
“We will not proceed until we have court approval,” Christian said.
Herman, 69, has spent over 40 years as an investigative reporter covering the courts, politics, labor, government and organized crime in Las Vegas. He joined Review-Journal in 2010 after over two decades with the rival Las Vegas Sun.
Prosecutors say the physical evidence against Telles is overwhelming, including DNA allegedly belonging to Telles found under Herman’s nails, a video of a man believed to be Telles walking near Herman’s house around the time of the murder, and a car believed to be Telles’s. region.
Grand jury transcripts say prosecutors produced photographs and video of a man with a gray duffel bag walking into the yard of Herman’s house before Herman goes there, and what a police detective called “riots” in the yard.