RENO, Nev. (AP) — A private investigator who used GPS equipment to secretly track the vehicles of Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and a county commissioner ahead of the 2002 election asked the Nevada Supreme Court late Friday for the warrant of a judge quashing that he was the client who hired him.
Schieve filed a lawsuit in December seeking damages from private investigator David McNeely for violating her privacy after a mechanic warned her about the clandestine GPS tracking device.
Sparks police determined it was purchased by McNeely, and ex-Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung joined the lawsuit in February under similar circumstances.
Attorneys for McNeely said in Friday’s appeal to the state Supreme Court that disclosing the name of a client who paid him to spy on the politicians would violate the long-accepted and expected confidentiality of a “private investigator-client relationship.”
The lawyers said Washoe had District Judge David Hardy wrongly rejected McNeely’s argument earlier this month that the customer’s name was a “trade secret” protected under Nevada law. They compared the stealth nature of the relationship to the “secret sauce” in a prized recipe.
“Private investigator clients expect confidentiality,” attorney Ryan Gormley wrote in a 31-page appeal filed Friday.
“Without that confidentiality, the business will fail. Thus, protecting the identity of the client creates significant economic value for both defendants and the private investigation industry as a whole,” he said.
Hardy had ordered McNeely to identify his client by Friday. But he noted in his ruling earlier this month that he was inclined to stay the case if an appeal was pending because there would be no way to undo the damage McNeely suffered from the disclosure of his client’s identity. as an appeals court later decided he had a right to keep it a secret.
Another attorney this week filed a motion to drop the proceedings on behalf of an anonymous John Doe, who said he hired McNeely to fight government corruption.
The document that attorney Jeffery Barr filed said that John Doe has the First Amendment right to investigate anonymously elected officials. It said Doe had not broken any laws or distributed any of the information gathered on his behalf and was never aware of whether McNeely had ordered GPS trackers to be placed on vehicles.
Judge Hardy on Thursday agreed to stay the case while McNeely appealed, a determination that all parties had agreed to.
The tracking device was on Schieve’s vehicle for at least several weeks and Hartung’s vehicle for several months, according to their lawsuit.
Schieve said McNeely entered her property to install the device, which a mechanic noticed while working on her vehicle last year during campaign season, about two weeks before winning reelection for mayor in November.
Hartung also won re-election, but has since resigned to accept an appointment as chairman of the Nevada Transportation Commission.
Hardy said in his May 4 ruling that using a GPS tracking device to track an individual’s movements could be “an unlawful invasion of privacy.”
McNeely’s appeal said the Supreme Court’s intervention is necessary to bring clarity to state law across the industry.
“In the context of the private investigator-client relationship, the secrecy of the relationship between the private investigator and the client is precisely what makes the relationship valuable to the company,” the appeal said.
“Because without the secrecy there wouldn’t be a relationship,” he said. “Confidentiality is the secret sauce.”