High court hears lawyer's smear job on journalist

There was an interesting debate before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday about the limits of the Nevada shield law. But while the justices probed the legal issues, the case before them still can be simply distilled:

Should a lawyer be able to abuse the legal process by fabricating allegations about a journalist reporting on a client, with the intent not to seek justice but to harass and intimidate, thus chilling the coverage?

The answer may be patently obvious – to a journalist, to an attorney, to a layman. But even so, a lawyer by the name of John Bailey has continued to try to manipulate the court system for two and a half years -- see here and here -- to slather slime on a journalist with a spotless reputation, claiming he needs to discover “evidence” of her corruption in covering his client, Aspen Financial Services, owned by gubernatorial scion Jeff Guinn.

Despite not having presented one scintilla of evidence that there is any “evidence” to be had, Bailey has pursued this to the high court, which heard the case in Las Vegas on Tuesday morning.

I declare my conflict in this case openly and unreservedly – and it is a twofold conflict. First, anytime a journalist is under attack in such an obscene way, I would stand up and be counted. But, second, when the reporter is my friend and television producer, Dana Gentry, and when I am in possession of something Bailey does not care about – facts – I rise with an unquenchable and increasing fury.

Bailey argued before the justices Tuesday that Gentry should not be protected by the Nevada shield law, one of the strongest in the country, because the information they are seeking was not the product of her newsgathering. But the entire premise of his abusive filings has been BECAUSE Gentry has been gathering news about Guinn and civil lawsuits against him – reports that have not resulted in one request from Bailey for a correction or even clarification despite numerous requests for comment.

Guinn and Bailey want two things: They want Gentry to stop covering the story, and they want revenge on her for covering the story.

Bailey did Tuesday what he has done all along in court documents and appearances -- he made all manner of insinuations about Gentry, saying she had received loans and gifts from Guinn’s legal foes, had even helped prepare legal documents filed against his client. Really?

If it weren’t so insidious, it would be comical. I still find it hard to imagine any respectable lawyer would ever wallow in such execrable tactics.

Bailey cannot produce any evidence that any of his allegations against Gentry are true – because there is none – so he argued a very narrow legal point before the court, which is that Gentry did not swear in an affidavit that the information they are seeking was obtained during the newsgathering process.

The intellectual dishonesty here is spectacular. If such “evidence” existed, it may or may not fall under the shield law. But Gentry could not swear to what Bailey is suggesting because the “evidence” is a figment of his or his client’s imagination -- or they simply made it up to smear her.

Justice James Hardesty, who not coincidentally once represented the Reno Gazette-Journal, showed a thorough knowledge of the shield law and pushed Bailey on his reading of it. Hardesty went so far as to make the point that even if Gentry had been corrupted, there is no evidence that her reporting of the truth has been affected, nor anything in the law that says she should have to reveal what Bailey falsely claims she has received.

“Would Bob Woodward have been required to disclose a $10,000 payoff by ‘Deep Throat’,” Hardesty asked, a bit wryly, I think.

But that was a legal sideshow, with fellow Justice Michael Douglas seeming more sympathetic to a less-than-absolute shield law. By the way, no journalist I respect believes any protections should be absolute, that we are so above the law that we should never have to answer questions in a legal case. But unless there is some good cause, unless real evidence is presented why such an unusual event should occur, the protections better be very strong.

Gentry’s lawyer, Don Campbell, made this very point as he began his rebuttal to Bailey, declaring, “At no time in the history of this litigation has there been anything to support that claim, merely the words of Mr. Bailey.”

He later would assert that when Bailey & Co. put these “sensationalistic, toxic” allegations into the public domain, “They know that all of this is fabricated.”

Indeed, Campbell pointed out, when a man who was alleged to have given a free bathroom remodel to Gentry was deposed by Bailey, the handyman told the lawyer that my producer had paid him for the work. Nice evidence, counselor. (I have first-hand knowledge of the other spurious allegations Bailey has made against Gentry -- they are ridiculous and I could prove it. But we will not allow him to open the door even a crack to further his insidious ends.)

Campbell also addressed the far-reaching implications of allowing Bailey to get what he wants, which he said would stanch “the free-flow of information.” And, of course, it would.

If reporters aggressively reporting on someone knew that they could be hauled into court and forced to answer “When did you stop beating your wife” questions, it would dramatically change the profession for the worse. That is why this is such an obvious abuse of the legal process, such a transparent attempt to harass a reporter whom the plaintiff wants off his….case.

Throughout this ordeal – and it would be harrowing for anyone who prizes his or reputation for integrity – Gentry has courageously refused to bow to the harassment. Instead, she has continued to cover the story, including a report on a hearing in the Guinn case Monday.

Gentry is fearless and furious – and I couldn’t be more proud to be her friend and broadcasting partner. I also am grateful, as is she, for all of the support from colleagues and competitors, incliuding Channel 8’s George Knapp and the RJ’s Jane Ann Morison, two veteran journlaists who attended Tuesday’s hearing; RJ lawyer Mark Hinueber, who has been suppoertive all along and was there, too; and, of course, the legendary Bob Stoldal, who has overseen the various iterations of the show Gentry and I have produced every weekday since 2001 and was right there having our backs on Tuesday.

I know how dangerous it is to read the tea leaves during a court hearing. But it seemed to me that justices Tuesday morning were torn between declining to handle Bailey’s writ and ordering him to go back to District Court and writing new law to strengthen the already potent Nevada shield statute.

Whatever they do, I hope the message is sent loudly and clearly to lawyers such as John Bailey, leeches on the legal system, bloodsuckers who feed on the emotions (and pocketbooks) of their clients. I hope the justices use this case to forever short-circuit this kind of behavior, making the law and the media’s protections even stronger.

(Image via k12tlc.net)