(Chuck Muth) – This is a long one, so grab a coffee refill before continuing.
There’s an obsessed man in Reno stalking legal sex workers – and the Nevada Legislature needs to stop him in his tracks…now.
ACR6 is a bill to study the “health and safety” of commercial sex workers in Nevada’s legal brothels over the next two years.
But the safety of these workers, as you’ll see detailed below, is at serious risk RIGHT NOW – and legislators shouldn’t wait two years to stop this man’s predatory behavior.
I’m talking about a creepy Reno lawyer named Jason Guinasso, who’s been on an 18-month religious crusade to shut down the brothels.
But it’s a particular legal tactic he’s using that jeopardizes the physical safety – and potentially the very lives – of these women that the Legislature needs to address before the end of the session next month.
And yes, it’s serious enough to warrant an “emergency” exemption to bring a short, new statute amendment forward. Here’s what it’s all about…
For a year and half now Guinasso has been trying to force Lyon County to give him the full names and addresses of every legal sex worker in the county’s four brothels, as detailed in a public record request he submitted to the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) on December 1, 2017…
“I write to request a copy of all applications for registration as a prostitute filed with the Lyon County Sheriff for the last 10 years. Please include all information on the application, including the address of the prostitute (my emphasis) and all addresses of the prostitute for the preceding three (3) years.”
For what nefarious purpose he wants this information, we don’t know.
What we do know is what happened afterwards, thanks to a public records request of my own I filed a few weeks ago which turned up multiple, previously-unknown communications between Guinasso and the county.
In a letter of response dated December 15, 2017, Lyon County District Attorney Steve Rye denied Guinasso’s request. Some pertinent excerpts…
“When there is no statutory provision that explicitly declares a record to be confidential, there still may be common law limitations that justify restricting disclosure based upon a balancing of the private and public interests involved. In this case the privacy and law enforcement concerns are significant.
“First, in order to work as prostitutes, persons are required to file the application. It is not a voluntary application with Lyon County. The Sheriff undergoes a criminal background check of applicants, and as a result, applicants provide social security numbers, aliases, addresses for the last three years, alien registration number or passport number and other personal information, including tattoos, piercings and major scars.
“The applicant is also required to provide emergency contact information, and the name and contact information is often provided without that person’s knowledge. The applicant also lists the criminal history, information which is generally viewed as confidential.
“This is all private information that should not be shared with the public. Similar information is provided by gaming employees and such information should also be kept confidential.
“Law enforcement reasons also justify keeping the applications confidential. Legal prostitution is highly regulated in Lyon County. The names and identities of the workers needs to be protected so that customers and others are not able to identify addresses and other information for the prostitutes without their consent or knowledge.
“Prostitutes are more likely to be victims of crime (my emphasis) in many instances. People may look up names and seek to contact those applicants at their residence. This could lead to an increase in crime and a threat to the workers. Release of the applications would likely subject the applicants to an unreasonable risk of harm. Confidentiality of the identity of these applicants is paramount.”
Bravo to Mr. Rye. But Guinasso didn’t give up. As I said, he’s obsessed.
In a letter of response dated June 8, 2018, Guinasso wrote that “we believe your office has erred in denial of production of the requested records,” arguing that the DA’s concern for the safety of sex workers was “conjectural at best.”
But Mr. Rye stood by his decision and did not provide the records. So Guinasso did what people like Guinasso do when they don’t get their way: He filed a lawsuit.
On August 9, 2018, Guinasso sued Lyon County, arguing that Mr. Rye and the county “have no basis…to withhold the requested records.”
In a follow-up letter dated August 16, 2018, Lyon County Administrative Director Michael Carlson provided a cost estimate for providing copies of the work applications with all personal, private information REDACTED (blacked out).
“(W)e estimate the cost to be not more than $3,777.00,” Mr. Carlson wrote. “The final product will involve redacting the following information: social security number, passport number, and/or alien registration number, date of birth, and emergency contact number.”
Guinasso had a cow…and not just because he had only offered to pay up to $45 for the cost to provide the records.
In a letter to Mr. Carlson dated September 12, 2018, Guinasso again claimed the DA’s office had “erred,” arguing that the applications “cannot be reasonably construed to fit the definition of a confidential record.”
“This office again requests to inspect all applications for registration as a prostitute filed with the Lyon County Sheriff for the last ten years pursuant to Lyon County Code 5.03.14. Please include all information on the application, including the name, date of birth, social security number, passport number, alien number, address, and all addresses of the applicant for the preceding three (3) years.”
In an email dated September 19, 2018, Mr. Rye gave Guinasso a short answer…
“Your assertion that social security numbers are not confidential is contrary to Nevada and federal law.”
I’m no lawyer, but even *I* know that.
However, like Captain Ahab obsessively pursuing Moby Dick, Guinasso continued his pursuit.
And then a strange and alarming thing happened…
On November 13, 2018 – just a week after an anti-brothel advisory question was crushed in Lyon County, 80-20 percent, and Lyon County Sheriff Al McNeil, who was a secret funder of Guinasso’s ballot question, was defeated for re-election – Mr. Carlson flip-flopped and sent the following email to Guinasso…
“Based on discussions with Sheriff McNeil, we want to offer this option for your records request. Your request asked for 10 years’ worth of records; however, we would like for you to consider revisiting your request to records since 2012. If this is agreeable, we will not only go ahead and process your request, but do it at no cost to you.”
“This is a reasonable resolution,” Guinasso emailed back later that afternoon. “We accept your proposal.”
To which Mr. Carlson replied…
“Thank you, sir. We will begin the processing this week and will possibly have it to you by the end of the next week.”
In return, on December 6, 2018, Guinasso withdrew his lawsuit.
But in a letter dated December 20, 2018, Mr. Rye over-ruled Mr. Carlson’s offer to provide the records at no cost, arguing that certain personal and private information HAD to be redacted so that “the records will contain no information to identify the individual applicant.”
Mr. Rye then went to additional great lengths to explain WHY this information on brothel workers must be protected…
“Often times, these workers do not want others to know their identity for protection. Prostitutes are more likely to be victims of crime (my emphasis), including sex trafficking, sexual assault and other serious crimes.
“Prostitution continues to have negative connotations in society. … Release of the names and contact information for the prostitutes would not only threaten their safety (my emphasis) because of the risk of Johns or others trying to track them down outside of the legal brothel, but it would also expose these women to shame, ridicule, stigma and backlash from the community from their employment as prostitutes.
“This is a nontrivial privacy interest that the County must consider. For these reasons, the Sheriff has determined it is necessary to redact all information but the date of application.”
Threaten their safety. Expose them to public shame and ridicule. Nontrivial. Strong, valid reasons, indeed.
What is unclear here, though, is whether or not the sheriff referenced by Mr. Rye was the old sheriff – McNeil, who lost his bid for re-election – or the new sheriff who was elected in November to replace him.
In any event, Guinasso was having none of it.
In a letter dated February 1, 2019, Guinasso wrote that “we believe your office has erred in its decision to renege the previously agreed upon terms of disclosure of the requested records.”
“As you are already aware, this office has withdrawn a complaint filed in District Court based on representations by LCSO Administration Director, Michael Carlson, that the requested records would be produced. Please provide the requested records, or the records offered by M. Carlson on November 13, 2018, WITHIN 5 DAYS (his emphasis) or this office will file for relief from the District Court.”
Responding to Guinasso’s latest threat, Mr. Rye fired back in a letter dated February 13, 2019…
“After careful review, our office has determined the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office is not obligated to release these records to you. Pursuant to your public records request for the same information, the Sheriff’s office has mailed you a redacted report summarizing the past three years of work card applications, including the first name of the applicant, the date of the application, and the agency issuing the work card.”
While a redacted report is certainly better than providing full unredacted copies of the applications, this concession in releasing first names of brothel workers is still cause for concern. It’s a potential “camel’s nose under the tent.”
Mr. Rye then proceeded to cite a 2016 “balancing test” court decision which determined that “exotic dancers could use pseudonyms (stage names) and granted a protective order regarding disclosure of their true identities.”
“(The court) considered a balancing of interests of the dancers’ privacy and threatened harm, with the potential prejudice and public interest in open courts, in deciding whether pseudonymity could be granted. The court concluded that ‘the dancers have expressed legitimate privacy and social stigma concerns, and reasonable concerns that disclosing their identities would expose them to harm.’
“Similarly, release of identifying information of brothel workers create the same if not more legitimate concerns of privacy, social stigma, and threats of harm. The personal privacy interest in this public records request, therefore, is nontrivial and significant.”
Mr. Rye continued…
“Second, your public records (request) does not assert a public interest other than a ‘public right to access.’ …
“The fact that you are seeking the records ‘pursuant to an investigation in anticipation of litigation’ does not provide any insight into the public interest you think is significant nor how release of the records would advance the interest.
“In this case, the nontrivial risk of an increase in crime or harm to the applicants greatly outweighs the public interest asserted.”
That’s the last communication I received as part of my public records request. But based on past history and previous behavior, it’s reasonable to assume Guinasso has or will continue his obsessive pursuit.
And while Mr. Rye has been a mensch thus far in protecting the safety and privacy rights of brothel workers, that’s not to say another DA in another county would do the same under similar circumstances if Guinasso moves his “great white whale” pursuit outside Lyon County.
Nor does that mean a judge won’t interpret the situation differently from Mr. Rye should a Guinasso lawsuit reach his or her court.
Indeed, as Mr. Rye noted in his very first response to Guinasso’s request, “there is no statutory provision that explicitly declares” brothel worker applications “to be confidential.”
And that’s what legislators need to fix before adjourning.
All the Nevada Legislature needs to do is amend the current public record statute to explicitly declare that the work card applications for commercial sex workers in Nevada’s legal brothels are confidential, just like gaming employees.
That would put an immediate end to Guinasso’s crusade in Lyon County and prevent him from expanding it into other counties. It would also remove a “gray area” in law that could potentially result in a court overruling District Attorney Rye.
Guinasso’s obsessive fishing expedition poses an immediate and ongoing danger to the health and safety of the women working in legal brothels. It’s a threat that legislators should eliminate now – while they’re still in session – not wait for the completion of a two-year study.
So let it be written; so let it be done.
Mr. Muth is president of Citizen Outreach, a limited-government grassroots advocacy organization.