Judge in Adelson lawsuit subject to unusual scrutiny amid Review-Journal sale

Just over a month before Sheldon Adelson’s family was revealed as the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, three reporters at the newspaper received an unusual assignment passed down from the newspaper’s corporate management: Drop everything and spend two weeks monitoring all activity of three Clark County judges.

The reason for the assignment and its unprecedented nature was never explained.

One of the three judges observed was District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, whose current caseload includes Jacobs v. Sands, a long-running wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., by Steven Jacobs, who ran Sands’ operations in Macau.

The case has attracted global media attention because of Jacobs’ contention in court filings that he was fired for trying to break the company’s links to Chinese organized crime triads, and allegations that Adelson turned a blind eye to prostitution and other illegal activities in his resorts there.

In May the billionaire and the judge clashed when Adelson took the witness stand but refused to answer a routine question.

“Sir, you need to answer the question,” Gonzalez told him.

When Adelson argued, Gonzalez told him, “Sir, you don’t get to argue with me. You understand that?”

It was not the first contentious exchange between Adelson’s team and the judge. Gonzalez fined Sands and its Chinese subsidiary $25,000 in 2012 after finding their attorneys had tried to deceive the court, and this year she fined Sands China $250,000 for withholding documents.

Last year, attorney Michael D. Davidson told the Review-Journal an Adelson representative offered to “significantly and financially” support a campaign to unseat Gonzalez. An Adelson spokesman declined comment at the time. Davidson said he declined the offer.

How the judges, and Gonzalez in particular, came under scrutiny this year just as GateHouse Media was quietly finalizing the newspaper’s sale and an ongoing management contract with Adelson’s family remains unclear.

None of the 15,000 words the reporters wrote about their time sitting in courtrooms was ever published by the Review-Journal, but days later a long article blasting Gonzalez’s rulings in the Sands case appeared in a small Connecticut newspaper with a connection to Adelson that became known only last week.

Unusual demands

The monitoring effort began in Las Vegas on Nov. 6 with a call from a top GateHouse Media executive to Review-Journal Publisher Jason Taylor.

Taylor and other Review-Journal executives have said GateHouse did not specify Gonzalez as one of the three judges. She was selected at the RJ — though not within the newsroom — because she specializes in business lawsuits and is handling unrelated high-profile cases involving Adelson and fellow casino mogul Steve Wynn.

Family Court Judge Mathew Harter and Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joseph Sciscento were selected by the reporters assigned to the effort.

An internal memo outlining the court initiative notes that each reporter was to “observe how engaged the judge is in the case, whether they’re prepared or not, if they favor one lawyer over another, whether they’re over- or under-worked — even whether they show up for work on time, or not.”

The memo, authored by Review-Journal Deputy Editor James G. Wright, notes the initiative was undertaken without explanation from GateHouse and over the objection of the newspaper’s management, and there was no expectation that anything would be published.

“We’ve simply been told we must do it, and it must start on Tuesday,” Wright wrote.

Diaries kept by the reporters were submitted in mid-November to Taylor and the newspaper’s attorney. Taylor said the diaries were never sent to GateHouse headquarters, nor did GateHouse corporate officials ever ask for them.

“When the request was handed down, it seemed like little more than a waste of time and resources,” Review-Journal Editor Michael Hengel said. “I still think it was a waste of time, but now I wonder what really was behind it.”

Review-Journal editors learned only Friday, after a version of this article was published online, that GateHouse management had attempted to get reporters from a Florida newspaper to investigate Las Vegas judges before forcing the assignment on the RJ.

Bill Church, executive editor of the GateHouse-owned Sarasota Herald-Tribune, said he received a call in early November about “a potentially big story regarding the court system and potential ethics violations.”

The call was from David Arkin, GateHouse’s vice president of content and audience. Church said that the call was brief and that Arkin did not name any specific judges, but did say the possible story involved campaign finances and how judges were ruling on certain cases.

After talking to his staff, Church told Arkin they could not immediately help.

“Given what I knew at the time, I said no, we just didn’t have the resources, and there were too many questions that still needed to get resolved,” Church said.

One major concern, Church said, was why the Sarasota newspaper would be asked to help when GateHouse also owned the Review-Journal, a larger newspaper in Las Vegas. Church said he would not have allowed his reporters to work on a Las Vegas story without Hengel’s blessing.

Church said Arkin never called him about the matter again. He said he was “stunned” when he read an online version of this article on Friday, but did not know what to conclude.

Hengel said Friday that he knew nothing of GateHouse Media’s attempt to involve the Florida newspaper.

“I’ve never talked to Arkin or anyone else outside of this newspaper regarding this project,” Hengel said. “And the fact these discussions were going on with the Florida paper about Las Vegas without anyone in the newsroom having any knowledge of it is, to me, very troubling.”

Reached by telephone Friday, Arkin said he was getting on a plane and would have to call back. Hours later, Arkin emailed a prepared statement defending the company’s request for the Sarasota paper’s help as well as GateHouse Media’s newsroom ethics to Hengel, Wright and reporter Eric Hartley.

GateHouse was “engaged to tackle an investigative story in Las Vegas with no knowledge of the prospective new buyer. Because Las Vegas was relatively new to the company, we decided to approach our newsroom in Sarasota, Florida, a team that is known for tackling big investigative journalism,” the statement reads in part.

“On the face of the situation, we had what appeared to be a great story we were capable of investigating, and I wanted our team to show its talent. From my point of view, it was nothing more.”

Unusual connections

On Nov. 30, the New Britain Herald, a tiny Connecticut newspaper not affiliated with GateHouse, published an article critical of the performance of courts that specialize in business disputes. It singled out Judge Gonzalez with scathing criticism of her “inconsistent and even contradictory” handling of the Adelson case and another lawsuit involving Wynn Resorts Ltd.

The article suggests Gonzalez’s rulings in those cases were unfair, and her work “undermines the rationale for the creation of such (business) courts in the first place — which was to provide reliable consistency, even predictability in the resolution of frequently recurring issues.”

The article also says 24 percent of Nevada lawyers rated Gonzalez as “less than adequate” in the Review-Journal’s regular “Judging the Judges” survey, but incorrectly presents that as an overall rating, rather than a ranking on one category regarding bias toward lawyers or litigants appearing before her.

The Adelson and Wynn cases were the only specific examples cited at length in the story. Two other judges were mentioned, but the critique of Gonzalez’s courtroom proceedings consumed more than a quarter of the 1,900-word article.

The article’s author was identified as Edward Clarkin, whose byline is found only one other time in the archives of the Connecticut newspaper, on a review of a Polish restaurant.

Attempts to locate Clarkin have been unsuccessful. Herald executives did not respond to requests for information, but a newspaper staffer said no one by that name works there. A nationwide search turned up no writer by that name, though laudatory reviews from Edward Clarkin, identified as being from the New Britain Herald and a sister paper, the Bristol Press, appear on the website of Tennessee mystery writer Keith Donnelly.

Donnelly did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On Dec. 10, GateHouse announced the sale of the Review-Journal to News + Media LLC, a company organized in Delaware in September. At an RJ staff meeting, Michael Schroeder was introduced as the manager of the company, and said he would not identify its owners.

Schroeder owns Central Connecticut Communications, which operates the New Britain Herald and three other papers.

Reached at his Connecticut newspaper office Friday, Schroeder declined to say how the article came about or discuss Clarkin’s role at the papers.

“I’m not going to talk about our newsgathering,” he said, later adding, “I don’t talk about our reporters, either — or our freelancers or anyone else.”

Asked how a Review-Journal reporter might be able to reach Clarkin, Schroeder replied: “I have no idea.”

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.

A District Court official who declined to be identified for fear of retribution suggested the issue may be of interest to federal authorities.

“I almost think your question is a federal question because … when there’s a question at a District Court that could involve a conflict, that’s not a question we can investigate,” the official said. “It seems to me you might want to talk to the (Justice Department) or someone else.”

Linkage unclear

Whether there was a link between the GateHouse-ordered court monitoring assignment, the critical article in New Britain and the sale of the RJ to the Adelson family remains unclear.

Michael Reed, CEO of New Media Investment Corp., the parent company of GateHouse Media, declined to comment when asked whether Adelson was involved in the court monitoring directive. He said the effort was part of a “multistate, multinewsroom” investigative effort initiated by GateHouse, but said he did not know who started it or how it was approved.

“I don’t know why you’re trying to create a story where there isn’t one,” Reed told an RJ reporter on Wednesday. “I would be focusing on the positive, not the negative.”

In a later interview with The Associated Press, Reed rejected the notion that the Review-Journal’s integrity had been challenged by the secrecy surrounding its sale. He said the public didn’t care about the buyer and that reporters pushed the story with the intention of creating controversy.

“I just wish reporters had better hearts and better intentions than just trying to slam media companies trying to do good,” he said.

Taylor has said he has been assured by the Adelsons that they won’t meddle in the editorial content of the newspaper.

In an interview with Reuters in Macau on Friday ahead of the formal opening of his new St. Regis hotel, Adelson said his family bought the RJ as a financial investment, dismissing speculation the deal was aimed at controlling media in the United States.

“The Review-Journal is already on my side of the political spectrum,” Adelson said of the paper’s Libertarian-leaning opinion pages.

“This newspaper has been making money… we left the (everyday) operation in the hands of the owner from who we bought it,” Adelson said. “We are not going to hire an editor, we left it up to them (current management), period. We may take some of the positive characteristics of our Israeli newspaper and add them to there, but that’s all just suggestions.”

Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Howard Stutz and Database Editor Adelaide Chen contributed to this report. Contact James DeHaven at jdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven. Contact Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512. Find her on Twitter: @J_Robison1. Contact Eric Hartley at ehartley@reviewjournal.com or 702-550-9229. Find him on Twitter: @ethartley.

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Bail was denied Tuesday for former Metropolitan Police Department detective, Pamela Rene Bordeaux who is accused of fatally shooting her daughter’s ex-husband during supervised visitation with his child.
Third suspect in death of California doctor appears in court
The third and final suspect in the killing of a California doctor, Jon Kennison, 27, appears in court Friday, April 19, 2019. Kennison, Kelsey Nichole Turner, a former model, and Diana Pena, face charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Richard Cleaves of Pahrump arrested in burglary on former Binion property
Updated press release regarding burglary on a former Binion property: Richard Cleaves, 56 of Pahrump, has been arrested on a warrant for burglary, conspiracy to commit grand larceny, and destruction of property. (Nye County Sheriff's Office)
Judge denies bail for suspect charged in the killing of California doctor
Diana Pena, one of three people charged in the killing of a California doctor, is being held without bail after her fingerprints were found on the car where Dr. Thomas Burchard's body was discovered.
Ex-NFL player and girlfriend held without bail in child’s death
Former professional football player Cierre Wood and his girlfriend, Amy Taylor, face charges of murder and child abuse in the death of Taylor's 5-year-old daughter. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
NHP identifies man who was shot by trooper on Mount Charleston
Nevada Highway Patrol updates the media on the April 2, 2019 officer involved shooting on Mount Charleston. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas court grants '90 Day Fiancé' defendant continuance
"90 Day Fiance" stars Colt Johnson and his mother Debra left the Las Vegas Justice Center Thursday, after the court granted Larissa dos Santos Lima a continuance in her misdemeanor case, in which she is accused of domestic violence against Colt. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Details released on in-custody death
Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank addresses media about details of an in-custody death at Clark County Detention Center on March 31. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man hurt in shooting with Nevada troopers at Mount Charleston
A man was injured in a shooting involving Nevada Highway Patrol troopers Tuesday afternoon at Mount Charleston on state Route 157 near Echo Trail. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Officer wounds inmate during escape attempt
An officer fired on an inmate who stole a vehicle and tried to flee, ramming several cars and leading officers on a chase until he ran out of gas.
Man fatally shot during a 'beer skip'
A store clerk is being questioned after a man was fatally shot during a robbery at a gas station Friday. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Las Vegas police give details on fatal shooting
Metro homicide Lt. Ray Spencer gives a briefing on a fatal shooting near downtown Las Vegas that occurred on March 27, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas community pays tribute to boy killed by car
The community joined friends and family at Wilbur & Theresa Faiss Park, Wednesday evening, to remember the boy who was struck and killed by a car crossing South Fort Apache Road from Faiss Park, near West Maule Avenue, on Monday. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Person of Interest Found For Downtown Las Vegas Bar - Video
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is seeking help to find a person of interest in a potential homicide case at a bar in downtown Las Vegas.
Metro briefs media on OIS near downtown Las Vegas
Police address media about officer-involved shooting that started on Maryland and Vegas Valley, and concluded downtown, near the Golden Nugget.
Update on OIS at Vegas Valley and Maryland
The incident began at the Steinberg Diagnostic Medical parking lot and ended downtown.
Amy And Spencer Powell Recount Hit And Run
Amy Powell and her son Spencer recount the day Spencer was hit by a truck while riding his bike. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah arrested in Amarillo, TX
Jeremy Burch of Tonopah was arrested in Amarillo, TX on a Nye County warrant for open murder, burglary, obtaining money under false pretense, use of credit card w/o owner consent, and destruction of evidence. (Nye County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)
Metro Presser For OIS 6 (Full)
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Metro Presser For OIS 6
Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 19, 2019.
Domestic disturbance call ends in suicide
A man died by suicide after police tried negotiating with him outside of his ex-girlfriend’s home on March 13. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by Las Vegas police
A 20-year-old armed robbery suspect shot by a Las Vegas officer on Saturday night is also accused of burglarizing a Boys & Girls Club minutes before the shooting.
Metro briefing on OIS near downtown Las Vegas
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Kelly McMahill briefs the media on a officer-involved shooting near Ninth Street and Bonanza Road on March 19, 2019. Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Man robs restaurant with large kitchen knife
On March 16, 2019, at approximately 6:00 PM, an armed robbery occurred at a local restaurant located near East Charleston and Eastern. The suspect entered the business with a large knife, demanding money from the registers. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Metro Addresses Ois At Bellagio (Full Press Conference)
Las Vegas Metro police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 15, 2019, at the Bellagio.
Metro Addresses OIS At Bellagio
Las Vegas police address the officer involved shooting that took place on March 15, 2019, at the Bellagio. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents facing murder charges held without bail
Lakeia Walker and Ricky Beasley, the parents of missing 3-year-old Zaela Walker, appeared briefly in North Las Vegas Court on camera from the Clark County Detention Center as they made their first appearance in court.
Metro briefing on OIS at Bellagio
Metro Capt. Nichole Splinter briefs the media on an officer-involved shooting in front of the Bellagio on Friday, March 15, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DUI Blitz
Metropolitan Police Department Traffic Sergeant David Stoddard discusses a law enforcement “DUI blitz” on Thursday, March 14, 2019, in the Las Vegas Valley. About 100 Metro and Nevada Highway Patrol officers searched the valley for impaired drivers between 5 p.m. Thursday and 3 a.m. Friday. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Commercial Robbery On 3000 Block Of North Las Vegas Blvd - VIDEO
On February 19th, 2019, at approximately 10:23 am, a robbery occurred to a business located on the 3000 block of North Las Vegas Boulevard. The pictured suspect entered the business, approached the counter and pointed a firearm at the victim demanding money. The victim complied and the suspect fled with an undisclosed amount of money. No injuries were reported.
Alexis Plunkett denied bail
Alexis Plunkett, the jailed Las Vegas defense lawyer enmeshed in a pair of felony cases, will remain behind bars while awaiting trial, a judge decided Thursday. (Mat Luschek /Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Bounty Hunter Chases Down Porch Pirate
A would-be thief tried to steal a package from the home of Alex Mazzola. Mazzola, a former bounty hunter, chased after the suspect.
DEA Launches New Program To Combat Opioid Epidemic
The Drug Enforcement Administration is launching a new effort in Nevada to combat the opioid epidemic.
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