Claims of conspiracy, judicial bias turn friendly divorce nasty

First, a poker player’s divorce raised still unanswered questions about whether the judge was influenced by campaign donations.

Now the same divorce between poker pro Phil Ivey Jr. and his ex-wife, Luciaetta, has resulted in allegations of legal malpractice and conspiracy against high-profile Las Vegas attorneys John Spilotro and David Chesnoff.

Local attorney Gary Logan, representing Luciaetta Ivey, sued Spilotro, Chesnoff and Ivey in federal court Tuesday. He alleged Spilotro, while representing the wife in the divorce, committed legal malpractice.

Logan contended Spilotro, Chesnoff and the poker player engaged in a civil conspiracy to cheat Ivey’s ex-wife out of what she should have received in the divorce. Phil Ivey hired celebrity attorney Chesnoff to represent him in the divorce in December 2009.

Malpractice and conspiracy are pretty strong words for one Las Vegas attorney to use against two others and provides an entirely new twist on what is already a controversial divorce involving millions of dollars.

Luciaetta Ivey contends that, at the suggestion of Chesnoff and her husband, she hired Spilotro to represent her in the divorce.

Spilotro, nephew of the notorious mobster Anthony Spilotro, was paid a flat fee of $10,000 by the poker player to cover his wife’s attorney fees, according to the complaint.

The malpractice allegation against Spilotro claims he didn’t research the husband’s assets and allowed the wife “to enter into a marital settlement agreement in the total absence of a financial disclosure” by the husband.

“In 2008 alone, Ivey reported community income in excess of $8 million, yet Spilotro made no effort to trace these funds before allowing his client to enter into a disadvantageous marital settlement agreement,” the complaint alleged.

In a divorce involving millions in assets and millions in gambling debts, Spilotro met with the wife for no more than four hours, according to Logan.

“Spilotro didn’t as much as take a deposition,” Logan said.

“I was asked to look at it, and I thought to myself this was rather unbelievable. You represent the client and you don’t investigate the community assets, you don’t represent the community debt, you just take his word. And none of this is documented?”

According to Chesnoff’s documents, the wife acknowledged Spilotro didn’t investigate the value of the assets. Can she now go back and claim that is malpractice by Spilotro and part of a conspiracy?

In the division of assets, according to documents filed by Chesnoff, Luciaetta Ivey received jewelry valued at more than $1 million, a purse collection valued at more than $1.2 million, her car, her life insurance policy, 40 percent of a stock account, a down payment for a new residence, and half of the proceeds from the sale of the Ivey’s home.

She also received 40 percent of his business interests, with one exception. His payments from Ivey’s online poker sponsor, Full Tilt Poker, were exempted. When payments to Ivey ended, monthly payments of $180,000 to her ended as well after 15 months. Logan insisted that was not alimony, but division of assets.

She seeks to reopen the divorce, claiming judicial bias because her ex-husband and Chesnoff made campaign donations to Family Court Judge Bill Gonzalez, who heard the divorce. Those donations were made after the divorce was finalized, but during the period when the ex-wife could file a motion for rehearing.

That case claiming campaign contributions can be cause for disqualifying a judge is pending before the Nevada Supreme Court and is separate from the federal conspiracy case. In prior rulings, justices have not found campaign donations to be cause for disqualifying a judge. This could be groundbreaking if her attorney, Bruce Shapiro, prevails.

What started as an amicable, uncontested divorce in 2009 after seven years of marriage has evolved into a challenge of campaign donations and claims of conspiracy pitting Las Vegas attorneys against each other. It’s no longer amicable or uncontested. Now it’s more like a UFC fight.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison

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