Nancy Quon tells me she’s a fighter even as tears fill her dark eyes.
The 50-year-old attorney is at the center of a lengthy federal investigation into possible corruption involving local construction defect litigations and homeowner associations.
Until Sept. 27, 2008, when her name surfaced prominently in an FBI search warrant, Quon enjoyed enormous success specializing in construction defect. In recent years, her courtroom victories generated more than $100 million in awards for hundreds of homeowners, according to some published reports, and lucrative fees for herself and her law partners.
Veteran trial attorney Tom Pitaro is preparing to defend Quon against future charges that are expected to place her in the middle of a complex conspiracy to drive up construction defect awards and rig HOA elections. Rumors that an “indictment is imminent” have buzzed for months through the downtown justice circuit.
Quon’s pressure-packed world temporarily spun out of control on Oct. 28 when she was nearly killed in a fire at her home. News reports quoted police sources openly surmising Quon had been involved in some sort of suicide pact with her live-in boyfriend, former Metro cop William Ronald Webb. He has been arrested on charges of conspiring to kill Quon.
It is the suicide rumor, Pitaro knows, that is potentially devastating to whatever defense Quon eventually mounts. After all, if true, it could arguably reveal a guilty state of mind.
But it’s false, Pitaro says.
“I think she’s a very, very tough person,” Pitaro says. “She faces adversity, she doesn’t run from it. I think her history shows that. She’s a fighter. She fights for what she believes in.”
On Sunday, with Pitaro listening closely and steering the interview away from the HOA investigation and her relationship with Webb, Quon described herself as a hard-working, self-made success story, adding it’s not in her personality to give up a battle.
“I think, to me, maybe that was the most disconcerting part about the newspaper stories that they would indicate that I was somehow suicidal, or that I would consider taking my own life,” Quon says. “And anyone who knows me knows that that’s just not my personality. I’m a fighter. My practice was taking on huge developers and insurance companies, and they just don’t roll over. It’s always a fight. …
“There have been some allegations that I was totally medicated or on alcohol, but the toxicology reports from UMC don’t reflect that.”
She calls the amount of alcohol in her system “inconsequential” and admits, “I take an anti-anxiety, prescribed medication. It’s an anti-seizure/anti-anxiety medication. It’s called Clonazepam.”
She added the UMC toxicology report showed a minimal presence of alcohol and the prescription drug in her system — nothing like what has been described in some accounts.
After taking her into custody as a possible danger to herself, police twice had her examined by specialists. Following a second examination conducted Nov. 11 at the Seven Hills Behavioral Institute, Dr. Stephen Frye wrote, “The social worker, Diane, and I both agree 100 percent that she was not suicidal and did not need to be here on a Legal 2000 and that she would be discharged today.
“I explained to her the risks of remaining involved with her boyfriend as he had put her in this terrible situation. She understood that completely. The fact that she is going to be living with her daughter now instead of the hotel means that he will have less access to be with her alone unless she decides that is what she wants. …
“We are going to cancel the Legal 2000 as it seems to be that this was a manipulation rather than a legitimately required Legal 2000 for someone who is suicidal as she is not suicidal and we are (in) complete agreement on this.”
Pitaro chides, “I’ve never seen anything like that. They actually used the word manipulation. It wasn’t a manipulation by us, that’s for damn sure.”
Away from the investigation and suspicious fire, Quon’s personal life is filled with its own joys and challenges.
Quon, who raised two children as a single mother, now has a young grandson. She also is a caregiver to her 49-year-old brother, Bob Hellen, who has battled B-cell leukemia since age 15 and is undergoing chemotherapy. Bob was driving to Las Vegas on the day of the fire. He was coming for a scheduled medical consultation at Nevada Cancer Institute, she says, and was planning to stay at her home.
“I’ve been helping him fight his whole life,” she says, tears welling. “I don’t think there’s a bigger fight that you can have. To me, that’s a real fight when you do that. Everything that I’m facing, to me, can’t measure up to what my brother is going through. I think that everyone who has cancer needs somebody to depend on. For my brother, it’s been me. I’ve been his rock.”
And her mental state at the time of the fire?
“Mentally, I was fine,” she says. “We’ve been hearing about this HOA case for a couple years. You just deal with what comes your way.”
If that makes her sound a little tougher than advertised, perhaps it should.
Her family moved to Las Vegas in 1968.
“I think I grew up in a hardworking family,” she says. “I didn’t grow up in an affluent family.”
Quon started working in the legal system as a law office runner. She became a secretary, then a paralegal. After earning an undergraduate degree at UNLV, she took out a government loan and attended California Western School of Law in San Diego, in part because it had a fast-track trimester system that would enable her to finish her studies more quickly. The law student she describes seemed hungry, in a hurry to get in the game.
An attorney for 15 years, she describes working 60- and 70-hour weeks and reveling in litigation battles against formidable opponents. She tells an interesting story about deciding to specialize in construction defect law after experiencing problems with her modest first home, a condominium near Sunrise Mountain. But this hard-charging attorney, this fighter, also must admit she’s not practicing much law these days.
One thing is certain. Whatever pressure Nancy Quon feels now only promises to increase in the days ahead.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.