U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Police agree to pay Las Vegas paper’s legal fees in public records lawsuits

Incident Details


A portion of a 2023 Nevada Supreme Court ruling finding that the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department wrongfully withheld records. The department agreed to pay the Las Vegas Review-Journal legal fees in connection with two suits on Feb. 29, 2024.

February 29, 2024

The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department agreed on Feb. 29, 2024, to pay the Las Vegas Review-Journal a total of $620,000 to cover the paper’s legal fees, settling two lawsuits against the department for violations of the state’s public records law.

The settlement stemmed from two incidents in which the department repeatedly denied the newspaper’s requests for documents or provided heavily redacted files, the Review-Journal reported. The first request sought the case file of a 2018 police investigation into a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper who had allegedly asked a confidential informant to harm or kill his wife. The second sought information about a deadly fire at the city’s Alpine Motel Apartments in 2019.

The newspaper filed lawsuits challenging both of the public records denials in February 2020. Immediately after the Review-Journal filed its suit concerning the fire, the department released some records, including a small portion of the body-camera footage, 911 calls and radio traffic records, according to court filings reviewed by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

After years of litigation, both lawsuits were appealed to the state Supreme Court, which determined in two separate rulings in March and August of 2023 that the police department had violated the Nevada Public Records Act when failing to comply with the Review-Journal’s requests. The court ordered that the records be released with limited redactions and awarded the newspaper attorneys’ fees and costs under the NPRA’s fee-shifting mandate.

During a public meeting at police headquarters on Feb. 29, 2024, the Metropolitan Police Committee on Fiscal Affairs — which oversees the department’s finances — approved payments of $325,000 and $295,000, the Review-Journal reported

An attorney for the Review-Journal told the newspaper that such reimbursements for legal fees are vital after taking the government to court, but lamented the impact they have on the public.

“It is a shame that governmental entities so often spend public money to fight against transparency when in the end it is taxpayers who are forced to foot the bill,” Review-Journal Chief Legal Officer Ben Lipman said.

Since January 2023, the Review-Journal has been awarded just under $1 million in attorneys fees following successful public records lawsuits. In addition to the recent settlements, the newspaper received $337,000 in connection with a lawsuit over denied requests for child autopsy reports as part of the Review-Journal’s investigation into how child protective services handled cases in which children died.

Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook told the outlet after the March 2023 ruling that he hopes it will lead to increased police transparency and compliance with the state public records law.

“The Nevada Supreme Court has very clearly upheld the public’s right to know again and again,” Cook said. “If Metro would stop withholding public records, it would improve public trust, save taxpayer money and spare the courts a lot of wasted time and resources.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].