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Las Vegas Sands claims judge’s comments suggest bias in Jacobs lawsuit

Las Vegas Sands Corp. is making a new attempt to remove District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez from a wrongful termination case that has received widespread publicity.

The company cited “recent intensified media coverage of the lawsuit” as one of the “new grounds” for requesting the judge’s disqualification.

“After years of apparent silence, the court has responded to that media coverage by contributing to the coverage,” according to the motion. “That participation raises doubts about the court’s impartiality and objectivity.”

Gonzalez responded with a declaration in which she denied having “a bias toward or prejudice against” Las Vegas Sands.

Sands lawyers filed their new motion last Wednesday, prompting Gonzalez to suspend all hearings in the case until Chief District Judge David Barker rules on the matter. A ruling is expected by Feb. 18.

A trial in the case is scheduled to begin June 27. If Gonzalez is removed, the long-running case could see a lengthy delay while a new judge gets up to speed. In November, the Nevada Supreme Court rejected a request to reassign the case to a different judge.

Steven Jacobs, former president and CEO of Sands China Ltd., filed the lawsuit shortly after he was fired in 2010. Defendants include Las Vegas Sands; Sheldon Adelson, the company’s chairman and CEO; and Sands China. Jacobs claims he was terminated “for blowing the whistle on improprieties and placing the interests of shareholders above those of Adelson.”

The latest attempt to remove Gonzalez from the case comes on the heels of a Jan. 12 court hearing related to the deposition of Adelson’s son-in-law, Patrick Dumont. During his deposition the previous day, Dumont had refused to answer any questions about contact with Michael Schroeder, the disgraced Connecticut newspaper owner associated with the Adelson family’s recent purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Dumont orchestrated the purchase.

Gonzalez ruled that Dumont’s lawyer had acted “inappropriately” under Nevada law when he directed his client not to answer questions about whether he had discussed Jacobs or his wrongful termination case with Schroeder. Dumont’s deposition continued after the Jan. 12 hearing.

Lawyers for Las Vegas Sands included more than a dozen news articles in their recent motion for disqualification. The articles appeared the previous month in local, national and international publications.

“From at least November 30, 2015, until the present day, this case has been the subject of saturated media coverage prompted by a change in ownership of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which has no bearing on the resolution of Steven C. Jacobs’s claim that he was wrongfully terminated from employment in Macau in July 2010,” according to the motion.

Sands lawyers argued that Gonzalez’s comments to the press “have become part of the saturated coverage.”

The recent news coverage, combined with the judge’s recent comments, would lead a “reasonable person” to believe that she “has a direct, certain, and immediate interest in media coverage of this lawsuit,” according to the motion.

Sands lawyers also cited Gonzalez’s rulings on the Dumont deposition.

“The court appears interested in learning the answers to the questions that are contested, thus suggesting the court’s personal interest in the subject matter,” they wrote.

One of Schroeder’s Connecticut newspapers on Nov. 30 published an article that was critical of Gonzalez. The author of the plagiarized, partially fabricated article was Edward Clarkin, a pseudonym. The article was published about the same time three RJ reporters were ordered by GateHouse Media, the newspaper’s former owner, to monitor Gonzalez and two other judges.

In her declaration, filed Friday, Gonzalez acknowledged responding to two media requests for comment about the RJ’s courtroom monitoring — one from the Review-Journal itself, the other from Time magazine. She said both publications correctly reflect that she “did not discuss a particular litigant or case.”

The Dec. 18 RJ report said, “When contacted for comment Thursday, Gonzalez said only that she didn’t mind reporters or anyone else sitting in her courtroom, which is open to the public, but declined to comment further because the issue involves pending cases.”

The judge specifically denied reading any articles “ostensibly authored by Mr. Clarkin in the Connecticut papers.”

“I have and will continue to be fair and impartial toward all parties in this case,” Gonzalez wrote.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. spokesman Ron Reese declined comment for this article. Jacobs’ attorney Todd Bice could not be reached for comment.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon and Miriam Adelson through their controlling interest in News + Media Capital Group LLC. The Adelsons are majority owners of Las Vegas Sands Corp.

Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer@reviewjournal.com or 702-384-8710. Find her on Twitter: @CarriGeer

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