Bar Associations

Judge tosses lawyer's defamation suit against Nevada bar

State Bar of Nevada seal

A federal judge in Nevada has tossed a lawsuit by a Las Vegas lawyer that claimed the State Bar of Nevada defamed him by leaking information to the press about pending bar probes against him.

In a March 3 order (PDF), U.S. District Judge James Mahan dismissed the lawsuit by lawyer David Lee Phillips alleging libel, infliction of emotional distress and constitutional violations. The Las Vegas Review-Journal covered the dismissal.

Phillips had alleged a lawyer working for the state bar made the disclosure in violation of confidentiality rules. Mahan’s ruling, however, says the state bar is allowed to disclose the procedural status and general nature of a grievance upon request by a third party. The conduct alleged in Phillips’ suit falls “squarely within the ambit” of the Supreme Court rule allowing such disclosure, Mahan said.

Phillips had also alleged the disclosure singled him out and was an example of the state bar “picking on attorneys of race and color.” Mahan also tossed that claim, saying Phillips failed to allege how the bar treated minority lawyers differently than other similarly situated lawyers.

Early last month,the state bar filed an ethics complaint against Phillips, according to an earlier story by the Review-Journal. One count says a judge believed Phillips had “either lied under oath or had a fundamental misunderstanding of the law and the court system.” The complaint also cited “multiple areas of concern” arising from a review of Phillips’ trust account.

Phillips remains undeterred in his fight against the state bar. He filed a new civil-rights suit (PDF) against the state bar Feb. 26 that claims discrimination and retaliation. According to the suit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found Phillips presented enough evidence to establish a prima facie case of discrimination by the state bar, leading the bar to file the ethics charges against him.

The new suit said the bar instigated disciplinary investigations “to unlawfully harass the plaintiff on the basis of his race and for no other legitimate lawful purpose.”

Bar counsel Stan Hunterton told the Review-Journal he has not seen an EEOC charge and the bar denies the allegations.

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