The Incline Village General Improvement District recently settled a multi-year lawsuit after a judge and special master found IVGID, upon the advice of its attorney, illegally refused to make public thousands of government records.
Mark Smith sued IVGID in 2018 after IVGID’s hired attorney, Jason Guinasso of the Hutchison & Steffen Law firm, denied most of Smith’s public records order.
Smith in 2017 placed an order for emails between Guinasso and IVGID’s then-general manager. Guinasso said that 13,000 pages of emails were confidential due to attorney-client privilege and 304 pages would cost Smith $1 per page to produce.
Both the denial and attempted fees were deemed illegal under the Nevada Public Records Act. Five years later, Smith said he got the records and a settlement for attorney fees.
“The district paid all of my attorney fees ($77,000), produced all of the documents I had requested, and terminated their attorney [Guinasso] who handled the original document request,” he said. “I was also advised by the district’s general manager that they are seeking reimbursement for some of their legal fees from said attorney, one-time District 26 Assembly candidate … Guinasso.”
Smith said IVGID was constantly blowing off his public records orders, so he then placed an order for Guinasso’s emails.
“As expected, [Guinasso] first claimed privilege and then a long list of refusals to either provide any documents or a privilege log, [so] I sued,” Smith told This Is Reno. “At every hearing we prevailed. As we got near trial they submitted a motion for summary judgment in their favor.
“The Friday before trial was to start, [the judge] both denied their motion and issued a motion for summary judgment in my favor (that we didn’t ask for but were happy to get),” he continued. “They then filed a motion for reconsideration, which the judge did and then revised her original order to be more in my favor.”
Guinasso said that because he is an attorney, those emails were considered attorney-client privileged communications. Some of his withheld records were for emails with subject lines such as, “lunch.”
An independent “special master,” however, determined the opposite of what Guinasso claimed. A review of the records, by attorney Matthew Sharp, found most of the records to be public, in accordance with public records laws.
“We then entered into a protracted battle over how to determine which documents were truly privileged,” Smith said. “They just eventually ordered that a small sampling (about 500 of 13,000 pages) were to be submitted to a special master for determination. He found that over 80% did not qualify for privilege. Which then led (slowly) to me receiving something like 11,000 pages and the agreement to be reimbursed for my costs.”
Guinasso, who last week helped host an event for incumbent Attorney General candidate Aaron Ford, declined to comment on this story. IVGID’s general manager did not respond to requests for information by the time of publication.