One of the nation's most prominent lawyers told the Nevada Supreme Court on Tuesday that judges shouldn't make public statements about cases, and a Las Vegas judge handling a lawsuit involving casino mogul Sheldon Adelson should be forced to step aside for doing so.
An attorney for a fired former Macau casino executive countered that the judge did nothing wrong, and that Harvard University Professor Alan Dershowitz's argument amounted to a tactic by Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., to stall or scuttle a case that Adelson doesn't want a jury to hear.
The trial is currently scheduled for June 27 in a case poised to air boardroom decisions about how Las Vegas Sands developed its lucrative interests in the Chinese gambling enclave. Todd Bice, the attorney for former Sands China Ltd. chief executive Steven Jacobs, acknowledged, however, that the schedule was effectively frozen pending a ruling by the state high court.
"They do not want a public trial and a public airing about what they did and what was going on in Macau," Bice said during oral arguments in Las Vegas. No immediate ruling was made by the four justices hearing the case.
Adelson didn't attend the hearing, where Bice accused the billionaire of unleashing "unlimited resources ... because he is not getting his way," and of pressing for the removal of Clark County District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez to try to derail the case.
The high court is being asked to overrule an administrative judge's decision that Gonzalez didn't exhibit bias by answering a Time magazine reporter's questions for a January story titled, "Meet the Judge at the Center of Sheldon Adelson's Strange Deal to Buy a Newspaper."
"Good judges know they should not say anything to the media that would likely result in a motion to disqualify," Dershowitz said. "I can imagine no case in this state that has been more contentious and more closely watched by the media ... than this case. She should have known she was inviting trouble."
Bice said Gonzalez did nothing wrong answering questions about her background and handling of cases in general. The Jacobs lawyer said the judge ended the interview when questions turned toward Adelson, Sands and the Jacobs case.
The magazine story emerged while the media learned that Adelson family members had bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper in December, and that reporters from the state's largest newspaper had been assigned weeks earlier to watch Gonzalez's work on the bench.
Dershowitz, pointing to a poster-sized image of Gonzalez and the Time article on an easel before the court, said the story might never have appeared if Gonzalez hadn't granted the interview.
Gonzalez has clashed numerous times with Adelson lawyers in the Jacobs case. She fined Las Vegas Sands and Sands China $25,000 in 2012 for deceiving the court and not turning over records as required to Jacobs and his lawyers. Last year, she fined Sands China $250,000 for similar violations.
Gonzalez also admonished Adelson during his testimony in open court last year for not answering a routine question from Jacobs' lawyers. She told Adelson he didn't get to argue with her.