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November 23, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

Lawyers opt for character attacks over facts

That lawyers can act in abhorrent ways is about as newsworthy as the declaration that Herman Cain may be developing problems with the female GOP base.

But here is what is news and what should frighten members of the bar, the news media and, yes, the public: A law firm, acting on behalf of a high-profile client, filed a legal document directed at a journalist who has been aggressively reporting about said client, attacking not the veracity of the journalism but — and this is where this is a frightening abuse of the legal system — but fabricating nonsense about the reporter.

Before I go into detail here, let me be clear: In all the years this journalist has been reporting on this client, not once — not once! — has the client or the law firm asked for a correction. And neither the law firm nor the client has agreed to address on the record any of the serious legal issues surrounding this client.

Now, they have resorted to a campaign of harassment, retaliation and intimidation. It will not work.

Let me fill in the blanks.

This story is not about me, but it might as well be. It is about Dana Gentry, who has been my executive producer at “Face to Face” for more than 10 years. Gentry has been in journalism for decades and has a reputation for aggression and toughness.

That’s how she approached a story three years ago involving hard-money-lender Jeff Guinn, who was being accused of abuse of power while his father, Kenny Guinn, was governor and later of byzantine, irregular business practices by investors.

Starting in 2008, we produced several “Face to Face” programs on the subject, which involved other prominent Nevadans who were alleging they had been wronged by Guinn. Gentry’s reporting was the foundation for each of those programs and she consistently — to no avail — tried to elicit comment from Guinn and his lawyers. Eventually, lawsuits were filed by the investors and, more recently, the FBI has been sniffing around the case.

I have wondered how much of this is about folks who lost money in a tanking economy looking for a scapegoat and how Guinn would explain these business practices. We wanted answers. What we got was character assassination.

A couple of months ago, Guinn’s lawyer John Bailey served a subpoena on Gentry demanding she produce certain documents to essentially disprove “When did you stop beating your wife?” allegations. I would call it a fishing expedition, but a more apt term is “witch hunt.”

I will not lower myself to Bailey’s level and detail what he implied in these documents about Gentry. But let me briefly address one allegation, of which I have firsthand knowledge.

Bailey essentially says that “Face to Face” hired a producer because of threats made by the producer’s family to release “personal information” about Gentry. This is a calumny not just on Gentry, but on KSNV and the Las Vegas Sun, which employs the producer, whose name I am not using because he is an innocent bystander to Bailey’s scurrilous campaign.

First, Gentry did not make the decision to hire the producer; I did. Or, should I say, I recommended he be hired because I thought he would help the program and be a good fit for Gentry, who had known the young man his entire life.

His family, which like others has been at odds with Jeff Guinn, played no role in his hiring. None. I stake my reputation on that.

The other allegation Bailey makes in the document, and a subsequent response to a successful attempt to quash the ludicrous subpoena, is that somehow the producer’s family and others involved in litigation with Guinn gave Gentry gifts to induce her to report critically about Guinn. Bailey did this without a scintilla of evidence that such arrangements existed — because they don’t.

Indeed, the legal tactic here is akin to: “We are going to make some wild, unsupportable allegations and we want you to provide us evidence to back them up.”

Maybe Bailey and his client think such tactics will frighten Gentry and induce her to back off the story — they are going to the state Supreme Court to try to get this week’s ruling quashing their subpoena overturned. They don’t know her — and they obviously don’t know me, either.

If we made mistakes on this — or any — story, we would be horrified and would immediately correct them. But no one has yet refuted anything — or even tried to refute anything — we have reported.

Instead, lawyers, feeling immune from accountability because the information is encased in court documents, try one of the oldest tactics in the book: Kill the messenger.

But they are shooting blanks, and the only blood they have drawn is their own.

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  1. What a sorry waste of time and energy. This type of behavior is unprofessional and sadly will take Court time, time that could be used better, to settle this. Goes to show what a litigous society we have.

  2. So it's abhorrent for an attorney to invoke the litigation privilege, but it's acceptable for a journalist to evade answering a subpoena by invoking the reporter privilege (a fact you conveniently fail to mention anywhere in your story)? If Ms. Gentry truly does not possess the documents sought by the subpoena - why not just say that? Why instead go to court to fight against responding?

    Mr. Ralston, actions speak louder than words, and while you say you possess journalistic integrity, your actions - publishing a one-sided, puff piece to help out your friend , co-worker, and producer of your Face to Face with Jon Ralston television show (conflict of interest?) while leaving out a number of pertinent facts - clearly reveal otherwise. At minimum, publish the pertinent legal briefs on your website and let your readers make up their own minds.

  3. I don't usually respond to comments on my column or blog posts because readers should be allowed to say what they want without fear the writer will always get the last word. But Mr. Henderson's post is an exception. Why?

    Because what he says here is misleading and outrageous. And because he fails to disclose he has worked in the law firm using the shameful tactics I wrote about above.

    Henderson is arguing that the firm's lawyers are justified in using the "litigation privilege" to fabricate allegations in a legal motion -- they have no evidence because none exists -- and then ask for documents to back up their fantasy.

    Why "evade" the subpoena? Two reasons.

    First, there is something Henderson and the firm apparently don't understand -- it's called a principle. For any journalist to allow such an insidious request to be accepted would be a violation of all that our profession holds dear. But, second, why should anyone have to answer a "When did you stop beating your wife? " allegation, which carries a presumption of guilt.

    I repeat: What is alleged in those documents -- prove you didn't do this, Ms. Gentry! -- is an outrageous abuse of the legal system. And, I'll say it for her: It is false and pure character assassination. She does not have to prove something for which the firm has no evidence and that happens not to be true.

    Your inane charge that I have a "conflict of interest" in writing about this exposes your sophistry -- again. I didn't publish that to "help out" Ms. Gentry. I published it because what the firm is doing is outrageous and needs to be exposed for all to see. No one thinks I hid my affiliation with Ms. Gentry. Why did you not disclose your ties with the firm?

    Leaving out a number of pertinent facts? Well, sir, why don't you post those facts here? I won't publish your briefs because what they seek to do is use innuendo and lies to attack someone's character. I'll tell you why you won't publish them yourself or put these "pertinent facts" out here -- because they are not facts. But perhaps I am wrong: If you are so confident of what you say, please do post the allegations you make in your briefs and your putative "facts" right here.

    You, sir, should be ashamed.

  4. Good for you, Jon. The story of Guinn's shenanigans is totally fair game - and important for the community to know. These legal tactics smell to high heaven.

  5. This seems like Jeff Guinn is not like his father. So, I guess not all fit the statement "Like father, like son" I am sorry that this happened. Did he pull an investment and went sour when Las Vegas went bust or was it a real scam? I guess the courts have to figure this out. In the meantime, Jeff Guinn needs to consentrate on him and not what Jon or anyone else says. And anyone connected to this mess needs to stay out of it. (Mr. Henderson)