The legal battle over what is left of the company that once ran a courthouse restaurant can’t escape the shadow of the far-reaching federal investigation into corruption at homeowners associations.
The bitter litigation is moving forward despite the death of Las Vegas attorney David Amesbury, the managing partner of the Courthouse Cafe.
Amesbury pleaded guilty and was cooperating in the federal investigation until he was found dead of an apparent hanging March 25 in Northern California. Police do not suspect foul play.
His chief legal rival, former construction company owner Leon Benzer, had filed a lawsuit against the Courthouse Cafe last year, accusing Amesbury of hijacking the company and misappropriating funds.
For months, Benzer, who was voted out of the company, has had discussions with federal prosecutors about cooperating. But he remains a key target of the investigation, which alleges a massive scheme to take over homeowners association boards and then steer legal and construction contracts to favored firms.
Another big target who once worked closely with Benzer, construction defects attorney Nancy Quon, was found dead in the bathtub of her Henderson condominium five days before Amesbury’s body was discovered at his brother’s property in Grass Valley, Calif.
Police do not suspect foul play in Quon’s death.
Though he invested the most money in the Courthouse Cafe and oversaw the restaurant’s construction at the bustling Regional Justice Center, Benzer was removed as a partner as Amesbury engineered a deal to turn over the company’s county-approved restaurant rights to Capriotti’s, a sandwich shop chain based in Las Vegas.
Benzer now drives a cab for a living.
The third Courthouse Cafe partner linked to the federal probe, retired Las Vegas police Lt. Benjamin Kim, has struck a deal to cooperate with federal authorities and has tried to distance himself from the legal battle over control of the company.
Kim’s wife, Lisa, who ran Platinum Community Services, a community management company targeted in the homeowners association investigation, also has negotiated a deal to cooperate.
Justice Department lawyers from Washington, D.C., are gearing up to file a new round of plea deals in the investigation, which has targeted lawyers, judges and former police officers.
In the wake of Amesbury’s death, his attorney Jeffrey Cogan, who was hired to defend Benzer’s lawsuit, filed court papers last week seeking to withdraw from the case. His problem: He no longer has anyone to contact at the company to help with the defense.
Cogan said in his court papers that he talked to Benjamin Kim on March 27, but Kim told him he has no knowledge of the lawsuit and “did not want to get involved.”
A fourth Courthouse Cafe partner, Steven Lee, who is not linked to the homeowners association investigation, also indicated he did not want to become part of the litigation, Cogan wrote.
A May 10 hearing has been set before District Judge Susan Scann to discuss whether to allow Cogan to withdraw.
Benzer attorney Sigal Chattah filed court papers last week questioning whether Scann should remain on the case. Chattah argued that Scann issued a ruling unfavorable to Benzer in the lawsuit without disclosing that as a lawyer she once had dealings with Benzer and his former company, Silver Lining Construction. The dealings were related to the homeowners association at Pebble Creek, one of a dozen associations under federal scrutiny.
Scann had represented Pebble Creek homeowners in 2008 and had voiced concerns about the involvement of Benzer and Silver Lining Construction with the association, Chattah wrote.
As it turns out, Chattah added, Amesbury also had pleaded guilty in the federal case in part over his work as a lawyer for Pebble Creek.
All this leaves little question that Scann should be disqualified from the Courthouse Cafe lawsuit, Chattah wrote.
Chief District Judge Jennifer Togliatti has planned a hearing on the matter next month.
Contact Jeff German at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-8135.