Nurses in hepatitis case ordered to stand trial as judge, attorneys spar

Tempers flared inside and outside the courtroom Wednesday as District Judge Donald Mosley ordered the two nurse anesthetists charged with Dr. Dipak Desai in the hepatitis C outbreak to stand trial March 14 without the physician.

From the bench, Mosley scolded attorney Michael Cristalli, who represents one of the nurses, Keith Mathahs, for trying to "manufacture" a delay in the trial in the absence of Desai, who has been found incompetent to stand trial.

Then, after Cristalli left the crowded courtroom, he angrily confronted one of the prosecutors, Chief Deputy District Attorney Mike Staudaher, in the hallway, accusing Staudaher of trying to embarrass him in court.

"Don't you ever do that to me again," Cristalli yelled in the face of the prosecutor, telling him he didn't appreciate the prosecutor's courtroom attempt to fuel the judge's anger.

That drew a denial from a startled Staudaher.

Later, Staudaher told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he merely pointed out that Cristalli missed some early opportunities prosecutors had afforded defense lawyers to review the massive amount of evidence in the criminal case.

Mosley, however, didn't need any help from Staudaher inside the courtroom as he lambasted Cristalli, whose work as a Las Vegas attorney led to the creation of the CBS show, "The Defenders."

Mosley lost patience with Cristalli after the attorney told him that he wouldn't be ready for trial by March 14 because he still needed to review tens of thousands of pages of documents, primarily from the massive civil litigation over the hepatitis outbreak.

"You're going to trial, or I'm going to hold you in contempt," Mosley said. "You will be ready."

Mosley told Cristalli he'll have to work weekends if necessary.

"I don't want to hear any excuses," the judge added in a raised voice. "It's a manufactured continuance, sir. I've been on the bench for 33 years, and I know one when I see it."

Joining Mathahs as a defendant is another veteran nurse anesthetist, Ronald Lakeman. Last month, Mosley held his lawyer, Frederick Santacroce, in contempt -- but later rescinded it -- for failing to show up in court for a hearing the attorney had sought.

Last week, District Judge Jackie Glass, who handles all court competency matters, ordered Desai to surrender March 17 to be taken to a state mental facility for further evaluation.

Glass disclosed that two court-appointed medical experts had concluded Desai was incapable of assisting his lawyers in light of two strokes in recent years.

Desai, 60, a gastroenterologist who gave up his medical license after the outbreak became public, and the two nurse anesthetists face several felony charges, including racketeering, insurance fraud and neglect of patients.

The charges revolve around seven people who authorities say were infected with the potentially deadly hepatitis C virus at Desai's Endoscopy Center of Southern Nevada. Hundreds of former patients might have been exposed at the clinic.

Contact Jeff German at or 702-380-8135.