High court ruling on Ivey case focuses on poker player's donation to judge

The ex-wife of poker star Phil Ivey has raised issues of "arguable merit" in her Las Vegas divorce case, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled this week.

Luciaetta Ivey has asked the state's high court to disqualify Family Court Judge Bill Gonzalez, who presided over the sealed divorce case, because of contributions her ex-husband and his lawyers made to the judge's campaign. The divorce was granted in December 2009, and the contributions were made in early 2010.

The Supreme Court's order, filed Tuesday, gives Phil Ivey 30 days to answer to his ex-wife's petition. Luciaetta Ivey then will have 15 days to reply.

Luciaetta Ivey's petition challenges the decision of District Judge Jennifer Togliatti, who denied the motion to disqualify Gonzalez.

"The public is entitled to know that impartiality is the rule for the judiciary," according to the petition, which is not sealed. "Further, Luciaetta is entitled to fairness and the appearance of fairness before this court and recusal is the only way that she can be sure to receive both."

According to Luciaetta Ivey's petition, the couple married on May 19, 2002, in Las Vegas, and their divorce decree was entered on Dec. 29, 2009. The case was sealed at the request of both parties.

In June, Luciaetta Ivey filed a motion in Clark County Family Court that raised new issues in the divorce case. The motion was to be heard by Gonzalez, but Luciaetta Ivey filed an "affidavit of implied bias or prejudice" based on the campaign contributions he had received.

Gonzalez, in turn, filed an affidavit stating he was "capable of rendering judgment in this matter in a fair and just manner."

In August, Luciaetta Ivey filed a motion to disqualify Gonzalez, which her ex-husband opposed. Togliatti denied the motion the following month.

Gonzalez was appointed by then-Gov. Jim Gibbons in March 2009 to fill a vacancy. Voters elected Gonzalez to the seat in November 2010.

According to the petition Luciaetta Ivey filed with the Supreme Court, she has learned that her ex-husband contributed $5,000 to Gonzalez's campaign on April 17, 2010. Phil Ivey, considered one of the world's best poker players, did not contribute to any other Family Court judge.

The petition further alleges that attorney David Chesnoff, who represents Phil Ivey in the divorce case, was active in the judge's campaign and contributed $1,000 on Feb. 9, 2010; that Chesnoff's wife contributed $2,500 on April 21, 2010; that Chesnoff's partner contributed $1,000 on April 21, 2010; that Chesnoff made an in-kind contribution of about $3,500 on April 8, 2010; and that the law firm of John Spilotro, whom Phil Ivey had "handpicked" to represent Luciaetta Ivey in the divorce, had contributed $500 on April 20, 2011.

Gonzalez's campaign contribution report indicates that Spilotro's firm actually made its donation in 2010. Attorney Bruce Shapiro now represents Luciaetta Ivey.

Records show that Gonzalez raised about $71,000 in cash donations in 2010, and his in-kind donations for the year totaled about $14,000. Gonzalez conducted a sealed hearing in the Ivey divorce case on Tuesday.