Attorney general’s office fails to fulfill records request
More than 160 days after The Nevada Independent submitted a request for a copy of Attorney General Aaron Ford’s calendar, Ford’s office has failed to provide the records, even as staff for the state’s other five top elected officials fulfilled identical requests in 33 days or less.
Ford’s office has instead pushed back its expected response time on three occasions, most recently to Feb. 2 — 191 days after the records request was filed — citing a high volume of requests, rigorous attention to detail surrounding the records, requirements to have at least two attorneys review materials and processes to ensure that “privileged information,” which is legally protected, does not accidentally reach the public.
In public records requests submitted on July 26, The Nevada Independent asked for each constitutional officer's calendar from Jan. 1 to July 24.
That same day, the state controller’s office sent the controller’s calendar. One week after the request, the secretary of state’s office fulfilled it. Twenty-two days after the initial request, the lieutenant governor’s office submitted its calendar. Thirty days after the initial request, the governor’s office shared its calendar. Finally, thirty-three days after the records request, the treasurer’s office submitted the documents.
Still, the attorney general’s office has not shared Ford’s calendar, which The Nevada Independent is seeking to closely examine the meetings and activity of state officers during, and shortly after, the legislative session.
Under state law, an entity that receives a request must respond within five business days. If the request cannot be fulfilled within that time, the organization must let the requester know the earliest date and time it reasonably believes the record will be available.
Initially, officials with the attorney general’s office said they anticipated responding to the request by Sept. 1, 2023. However, they pushed back the response date to Oct. 13, then again to Dec. 22 and finally to Feb. 2, 2024.
In an interview Monday, General Counsel of the Attorney General’s Office Leslie Nino Piro said the attorney general’s office is unique among the constitutional offices because it’s the state’s law firm and a law enforcement agency, requiring additional steps surrounding confidentiality statutes and legal matters.
“For our office, almost every single communication is potentially privileged,” Nino Piro said. “We have a very detailed review process. It goes through at least a two-step review by two separate attorneys, reviewing for hundreds of confidentiality statutes, and many other privileges.”
Information such as addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and credit cards are legally protected, she said. Nino Piro added that every year, members of the public, media, businesses, law firms and political organizations submit hundreds of thousands of records requests that require scrupulous review from attorneys to ensure that private information is not given to the public — and those attorneys often are serving in multiple capacities.
The attorney general’s office provides legal advice to state agencies and officers through numerous deputy attorneys general with specialized expertise and help county, local or national law enforcement agencies in investigations or court cases. The attorney general's office also has several divisions focused on areas such as consumer protection, Medicaid and insurance fraud, and takes the lead on joining and negotiating Nevada's position in major multistate lawsuits and settlements.
The office also issues formal opinions to state agencies, acts as a public advocate, proposes legislation, enforces state and federal laws, handles criminal appeals and operates victim compensation programs, among other duties.
“I am always concerned about accidental disclosure of something that's privileged because we have hundreds of lawsuits that are going on at any one time,” Nino Piro said.