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July 25, 2014

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Jon Ralston:

Lawyers take character assassination to high court

I wish this were an April Fool’s joke. It’s not.

Instead, this is an ongoing, outrageous, almost inconceivable bit of legal thuggery by leeching lawyers who seem determined to subvert basic principles of fairness while compromising the practice of journalism.

I do not exaggerate.

Attorneys who have attacked the integrity of a reporter through insinuations and fabrications in a legal document have now asked the state Supreme Court to intervene to set a precedent that will have long-term and inimical ramifications. The precedent: That lawyers hoping to impede the news gathering process can make unsupportable allegations about a journalist and force him or her to answer questions without any foundation, simply to raise the specter of impropriety.

If the state Supreme Court allows this, the justices will have codified character assassination and undermined any protection journalists have from willy nilly invasions of privacy. I’d call this a fishing expedition, but these are legal anglers dropping their line in a lake they know has no fish.

(I have written about this before: here and here.)

If I seem angry, it’s because I am. This is not about me but it might as well be.

My “Face to Face” producer, Dana Gentry, for many years, has been doing hard-hitting, probing pieces on hard-money lender Jeff Guinn’s business practices — practices that have resulted in lawsuits by investors who have accused him of engaging in fraudulent transactions designed to protect him, his family and close friends.

Gentry consistently has sought comment from Guinn and his lawyers, who have refused. But not once — not once! — after her reports were aired, many times on “Face to Face,” have the attorneys, led by John Bailey, demanded a correction or retraction.

So after all this time and silence, last year, Guinn, through his legal team, tried to force Gentry to answer questions about her private life by subpoenaing records that they falsely claim they have “good reason” to believe exist that would show she is venal and biased. And this is the key point: They have presented not one bit of evidence to bolster their predicate for asking the questions.

Why? Because there is none.

What’s more, nothing in their legal efforts furthers Guinn’s defense against the serious charges filed in civil documents and that are the subject of law enforcement probes. This is an attempt to sully Gentry’s reputation. Period.

So why, you might ask, doesn’t Gentry simply answer the questions and show that there is nothing there? Therein lies the much broader implications of this case and explains why every journalist in this state — and others who might one day be involved in a court case where one side is represented by unscrupulous lawyers — should be incensed.

It was the lack of evidence that caused District Judge Allan Earl to quash the subpoena last year, saying, “If the defendants can prove to me in a private evidentiary hearing that some of this information is absolutely necessary, I’ll reconsider it. But when news gatherers are threatened with things that could easily destroy their credibility, I’m concerned.”

So all they had to do was present evidence to Earl and Gentry would have been forced to answer. Sounds reasonable, right?

But they did not do so. Why?

“The answer to this question is as simple as it is damning: the Petitioners had no evidence to present because their charges of journalistic corruption on the part of Ms. Gentry were fabricated,” wrote Don Campbell, my attorney and Gentry’s, in an answer to the high court filed last week.

Exactly.

So instead of an evidentiary hearing, the lawyers are trying for an extraordinary writ from the high court. They are trying a “stratagem (that) comes as no surprise to Ms. Gentry, because she knows what the Petitioners know,” Campbell wrote, “that Petitioners have no evidence to support their toxic claims of journalistic corruption.” And this: “The true state of the record, however, is that Ms. Gentry’s integrity as a journalist has been gratuitously smeared in the Counterclaim in retaliation for her production of news stories which the Petitioners found unflattering.”

This is nothing short of frightening.

And, as Campbell noted, what is even more pernicious is this: “If this Court were to grant this petition in absence of any evidence supporting a demonstrable claim of need, it would impose an enormous disincentive upon journalists to vigorously pursue stories in their efforts to further public interest and debate of controversial subjects.”

Indeed.

I know the media are not held in high regard these days. But this is about an abuse of the legal system by a man and his legal horses out to trample the hard-earned reputation of a veteran journalist. If it doesn’t bother you, it should. If you don’t voice your outrage — I’m especially talking to you, fellow Fourth Estaters — you have only yourself to blame for the consequences.

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  1. Jon,

    You can always hope that if need be this can be heard by SCOTUS. They have upheld and broadened Free Speech in just about every case that has come before them, usually by 6 - 3 decisions or better.

  2. Hm. If our 7 member court is turning in 6-3 or better decisions then Jon really should be looking into this quickly.

  3. Jon:

    You know this is all about power - and who, they think should have it. How dare we peons take a piece of it.

    So long as the media tells the truth - and nothing but, it will prevail in the end.

    One caveat: You stick out your neck, oftentimes it gets cut.

    That is why there are too many of us bleating -----baaaaaaaaa.....

  4. There are some attorneys out there that are just plain ol abusive. They walk the fine line of ethics and common courtesy, throwing unrealistic demands as a stratey in hopes of overwhelming the opposition. The noble and earnest defense of Constitutional rights and the carrying out of the law of the land falls deft upon such representors of citizen rights, once respected in our great land.

    What it is, is time consuming and expensive for both petitioner and defendant in legal representation costs, all the while the attorneys are raking in the money. Also, the little matter about the need for some judges to recuse themselves from a case due to their outside relationships and even friendships with a party/case is even more problematic. I know this by firsthand experience. Hardly JUSTICE.

    There is little recourse when the money runs out. Sad to say that OUR justice system is about having the ability to fight with financial resources/deep pockets for a favorable outcome.

    As they say, "The wheels of justice are slow." So if you can afford paying over time, you stand a chance. Good Luck Jon.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  5. Hi Adam: Not sure what good a bar complaint does since legal privilege seems to confer a license to lie in pleadings. Judge Earl offered a hearing because Guinn's attorneys claim the requested discovery is outside of the shield law. I will be the first to agree that a litigant who presents evidence a reporter is on the take should be entitled to discovery. Guinn's attorneys have failed to offer evidence... because it doesn't exist. Link to Supreme Court pleadings below.

    http://caseinfo.nvsupremecourt.us/public...

  6. Freedom of the press or just free speech in general? Admittedly the issue as presented here confuses me. Lawyers protecting free speech versus lawyers protecting clients against slander. Given a choice, in my view, free speech should come first.

  7. As the public becomes more quickly informed with today's technology - I hold solid journalists, like Dana Gentry (and a slew of others that are principled in their endeavor to pursue truth) in much higher regard than I do attorney's, the judicial system or our elected representatives!

    This case really infuriates me - and I hope we can garner enough support to expose these unscrupulous types once and for all - hang in there Dana!

  8. The Face to Face show has always been a hard hitting expose of the truth. Dana Gentry has always been nothing but above board. No court in this land should defend against free speech, at the expense of the truth. If there is no rumor, conjecture, or innuendo, then there is no slander, or libel. I am surprised that John Bailey would even remotely take the position that he has taken, at the expense of the truth.

  9. Lawyers acting like the slime most of them are. I'm shocked.