The legal troubles of Jeff Guinn and Aspen Financial Services would be news no matter what; Guinn is the son of the late former Gov. Kenny Guinn, and he’s involved in legal wrangling with some high-profile, old-time Las Vegans.
So when Dana Gentry, executive producer of Face to Face with Jon Ralston, did a series of stories on lawsuits involving Guinn and Aspen, she knew she was stepping into a high-profile story. But she probably never anticipated what would come next.
Attorneys for Guinn—John Bailey, Joseph Liebman, and Brandon Kemble— filed a defamation lawsuit against a series of people they allege were sources for Gentry’s reporting, and issued her a subpoena in which they lodged allegations of journalistic corruption. Among the charges: That Gentry helped prepare a lawsuit against Guinn; that she received gifts/home improvement work from her sources and that she’d helped someone get a job under threats of blackmail.
No direct evidence of these charges has been produced in court or identified in court documents arguing for the subpoena.
Bear in mind that Guinn did not sue Gentry herself, either for defamation or anything else; in fact, she’s not a party to any of the litigation at issue. But the allegations made are incredibly damaging to Gentry’s career.
Gentry attorney Don Campbell (who has also represented the Review-Journal, and Las Vegas CityLife, a newspaper of which I’m the former editor) successfully argued in District Court to quash the subpoena. Campbell argued the Nevada shield law protects journalists from having to reveal sources or information, and that the subpoena seeks private financial information, to which Guinn’s attorneys are not entitled. Judge Allan Earl allowed that if Guinn’s attorneys could show they needed the information in an private hearing, he may reconsider his ruling.
But instead of requesting that hearing, or dropping the matter, Guinn’s lawyers appealed Earl’s ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court. They argue they aren’t seeking material covered by the shield law, but rather personal information unconnected to Gentry’s job as a journalist and thus unprotected by the shield law. And, repeating the allegations of corruption, they even question her independence.
The Supreme Court is preparing to hear the case now. They should quash the subpoena once and for all. Here’s why:
First, it seems clear the subpoena came in response to Gentry’s reporting, which Guinn didn’t like. The stories Gentry produced were critical of Guinn’s activities, and it’s understandable that he’s upset. But the allegations against Gentry—again, made without evidence—are clearly designed to harm her reputation, her ability to continue to cover the story and to serve as a warning to other journalists who may be thinking of pursing the story, too.
Second, even if the material Guinn’s attorneys are seeking (assuming for the sake of argument that it exists) isn’t covered by the shield law, allowing lawyers to demand personal information from journalists who aggressively cover stories cannot help but have a chilling effect on news gathering. The subjects of future court stories—especially deep-pocketed ones—could make whatever spurious allegations they wish against journalists in court papers justifying a subpoena, sullying their reputations. Even if the allegations are later disproved and sanctions are sought and issued, the damage would be done.
Third, Guinn’s attorneys argue that—outside of the realm of news gathering—journalists are no different from anyone else when it comes to answering subpoenas. But that argument neglects the fact that this subpoena was issued subsequent to and as a proximate result of Gentry’s news gathering and reporting. Had she not done these stories, or had she done stories more favorable to Guinn, it would never have been issued. The case for retaliation against Gentry is a strong one.
As someone who’s competed against Gentry on stories, I can testify that her reputation for tough, hard-hitting reporting is well-earned. It’s been unnecessarily and unjustly sullied in these proceedings, but the state Supreme Court now has a chance to put a stop to that. They should take the opportunity to do so. In the meantime, all Nevada journalists should take note of this case. Next time, the name on the subpoena could be yours.