October 6, 2023

Police and prosecutors will not be permitted to search slain Las Vegas Review-Journal investigative reporter Jeff German’s electronic devices, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The opinion maintains that the contents of German’s devices are protected by Nevada’s press shield law. German was stabbed to death Sept. 2, 2022, and police later arrested former Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, who had been a subject of German’s reporting. Police also seized German’s cell phone and five computers to aid their investigation, but the Review-Journal has said those devices may contain confidential reporting materials.

Shield laws protect journalists from being compelled to disclose their sources or information gathered through their reporting. The Nevada Supreme Court’s ruling appears to be the first to state that a shield law carries on after a journalist’s death, Review-Journal executive editor Glenn Cook said.

“We had no precedent for that before this, and to now have that clearly and strongly articulated at a state supreme court level is critical to the health of shield laws across the United States,” Cook said. “Nevada’s shield law has always been recognized as the gold standard. … And so to have this ruling further buttress the strongest shield law in the country is hugely reassuring.”

Before his death at 69, German had worked in Las Vegas as a journalist for more than 40 years. He was one of the best sourced and most trusted journalists in the state, his colleagues said.

“He had confidential sources, so our confidential sources, with (the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department), with the DA’s office, with the courts, with the office of the man who’s accused of murdering him, and on and on through from the top to the bottom of Las Vegas,” said Review-Journal chief legal officer Benjamin Lipman. “And we absolutely could not afford to have anybody rummaging through that.”

After authorities made it clear that they wanted to search German’s devices, the Review-Journal moved to block them in court. Several of German’s sources reached out to the paper and urged it to keep fighting as they were afraid their identities would be revealed if the devices were searched, Cook said.

He added that much of German’s work had relied on the use of confidential sources. Working in Nevada as a journalist is difficult, Cook said, as it is “a very off-the-record state,” so protecting the state’s shield laws was of utmost importance.

“There’s rampant non-compliance with the state’s public records act,” Cook said. “Utilizing confidential sources was how Jeff German got so many big stories over the course of his career because wrangling documents from public entities that don’t want to follow the law is an ongoing challenge for every news organization in the state.”

In their ruling, Nevada Supreme Court justices acknowledged that a reporter’s privilege — the right not to divulge information about one’s sources in court — is not absolute “when a defendant’s countervailing constitutional rights are at issue.” Police have argued that they need to search German’s devices to both aid their own investigation and Telles’ defense, the Review-Journal reported.

A district court had previously ruled that the police department and district attorney’s office should be allowed to conduct the search of German’s devices. However, the Nevada Supreme Court ordered the lower court to instead proceed with a search protocol that more closely aligns with the Review-Journal’s suggested method.

Under the new plan, former U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen and former Clark County District Attorney David Roger — both of whom had been chosen by the Review-Journal — will go through German’s devices and pick out material relevant to the case. Of that material, they will then identify anything that could potentially be subject to reporting privilege, which they will pass on to the Review-Journal. The paper will then get to decide whether it wishes to protect that information (though those decisions could be challenged in court).

“(Sources) risk so much so often by talking to us, and we will fight for their confidentiality as long as we have to,” Lipman said.

The respondents in the case, which include the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and Telles, now have the opportunity to ask the Nevada Supreme Court for a rehearing. Only three of the court’s seven judges heard the case, so the respondents could ask for a rehearing before the three-person panel or before the entire court.

The Las Vegas police department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Cook said that he thought if German were still alive, he would be “pumping his fist” at the ruling. German was fiercely protective of the identities of his sources, even once refusing to identify a source to a reporter he was working on a story with. Early in German’s career, he was called to the stand in a court proceeding, and a lawyer demanded that he reveal one of his sources, Cook said. German refused, invoking the state’s shield law.

“The shield law protected Jeff and Jeff’s sources throughout his career,” Cook said. “It would have been an incredible travesty if Jeff’s murder had led to the weakening of the shield law, and we’re incredibly relieved that didn’t happen.”

Senior product specialist Mel Grau contributed reporting.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Angela Fu is a reporter for Poynter. She can be reached at or on Twitter @angelanfu.
Angela Fu

More News

Back to News