A judge blocked Las Vegas police, prosecutors and defense attorneys Wednesday from accessing a slain investigative journalist’s cellphone and electronic devices over concerns about revealing the reporter’s confidential sources and notes.
Then she backed away from the case, citing an immediate appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
“I don’t think I have jurisdiction anymore,” Clark County District Judge Susan Johnson told attorneys for the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, county prosecutors, defense attorneys, and lawyers representing the Las Vegas Review-Journal and dozens of media organizations. “Let’s see what the Supreme Court says.”
The judge pointed during a brief hearing to her restraining order, issued minutes earlier, and acknowledged the fast track taken on a question that all sides agree needs a state high court ruling.
Her order blocks immediate review by police of six devices that attorneys for the newspaper expect contain source names and notes compiled by reporter Jeff German before he was killed Sept. 2 in a knife attack outside his home.
Police and prosecutors want to comb the records for additional evidence that Robert “Rob” Telles, a former Democratic elected county official, fatally stabbed German in response to articles German wrote that were critical of Telles and his managerial conduct.
Telles’ court-appointed public defenders want to learn whether other people had a motive to kill German.
The police department, the Clark County district attorney’s office and Telles’ defense lawyers jointly sought the appeal.
The newspaper, backed by organizations including The Associated Press and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, maintains that police should not have the devices at all. It argues that confidential information, names and unpublished material are protected from disclosure under strict state law, federal privacy statutes and constitutional First Amendment safeguards.
Telles, 45, was Clark County public administrator, overseeing an office that handles assets of people who die without a will or family contacts. He was arrested Sept. 7 and remains jailed without bail pending a preliminary hearing on murder and other charges.
He lost his party primary for reelection in June and was stripped by a court order last month of his elected position.
Telles was suspended Wednesday from practicing law by a state high court order citing pending disciplinary proceedings against him by the State Bar of Nevada. The order noted that Telles has been charged with murder and “appears to have transferred significant funds” from his law practice trust accounts.
Authorities say surveillance video, Telles’ DNA on German’s body and evidence found at Telles’ home connect him to German’s killing.
Attorney Matthew Christian, representing the police department, said the investigation can’t be completed until detectives review all possible evidence pertinent to the case.
Johnson previously acknowledged that because it is rare for a U.S. journalist to be killed because of their work, there was little legal precedent for her to follow to allow investigators to access German’s files.
A proposal that might have had the judge appoint an independent panel to review the records collapsed because the newspaper doesn’t want Las Vegas-area investigators who may have been sources for, or the subject of, German’s work involved in the process.
German, 69, spent 44 years reporting on organized crime, government corruption, political scandals and mass shootings, first at the Las Vegas Sun and then at the Review-Journal. He was widely respected for his tenacity and confidential contacts in police, court and legal circles.