Judges’ ties with Sanson have courts in tight spot

Updated February 5, 2018 - 6:21 pm

Internet radio show host, self-proclaimed veterans advocate and judicial endorser Steve Sanson is in a legal no man’s land.

Sanson’s years of providing District Court judges with free advertising — and judges foolishly appearing on his show and pursuing his political support — are now working against him.

Local judges don’t want to hear a defamation lawsuit filed against the social media and email bomb thrower.

Seven District Court judges have recused themselves from his defamation case. Elissa Cadish, Jim Crockett, David Jones and Valerie Adair were the first to say they wouldn’t hear his case, some citing the Nevada Code of Judicial Ethics.

Judge Kerry Earley issued a minute order taking herself off the case “to avoid the appearance of impropriety and implied bias” because she knows Sanson.

Judge Adriana Escobar did the same, citing “a professional relationship” with Sanson during previous campaigns, including the endorsement of his organization, Veterans in Politics International.

One judge, Mark Bailus, a newbie who was appointed to the bench in May 2017, showed incredibly poor judgment. Bailus appeared on Sanson’s show even though he was hearing the defamation case Las Vegas attorney Marshal Willick filed against Sanson a year ago.

When Sanson’s case was assigned to him, he initially insisted he would not be biased. Later he conceded he should take himself off the case, so Chief Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez did it for him.

Willick alleged that Sanson and Veterans in Politics International have a “continuing campaign of malicious, false and/or misleading statements regarding (Willick’s) reputation and business.”

Willick wanted the case assigned to a senior judge who doesn’t have to run for election and won’t be intimidated by Sanson’s antics. Sanson fought to keep Bailus on the defamation case. It’s clear now that Sanson won’t be able to leverage his relationships with judges to obtain favorable treatment in court.

There’s a lot of smoke surrounding Sanson, whose big fundraiser is Feb. 10, a Valentine’s Day event at the Plaza. Expect some judges to be in attendance.

Folks paying $125 each or $1,000 for a table for eight need to know they can’t deduct it on their taxes. Although Veterans in Politics International is a nonprofit, its political activism means donors can’t claim financial gifts as charitable contributions.

Sanson is a friend to some elected officials and a foe to others. He sees himself as a political power player. Plenty of veterans and political figures see him as a poser.

He cozies up to politicians, claiming that his endorsements are powerful in the veterans community. He can be a vicious enemy as well, filing multiple complaints against judges who ignore him and won’t go on his show. He bashes some judges and endorses others on his radio show.

In August, Family Court Judge Bryce Duckworth accused Sanson of trying to intimidate him and took himself off a divorce and child custody case after Sanson, who was not a party in the matter, tried to contact him directly about the case.

Duckworth made a finding I agree with 100 percent: “Notwithstanding his self-proclaimed faux cover of seeking to ‘expose injustice and corruption,’ Mr. Sanson’s sole motivation for communicating with this Court was to intimidate and harass the Court.”

Sanson is riding on the backs of veterans to give himself a political profile. In September, I wrote about his four failures to become an elected official himself.

Several people have said Sanson needs to be investigated, including Duckworth. You’d think his request would have some clout with the proper agency.

At least two other men have also asked government officials to investigate Sanson. Mark DiCiero, a former longtime local morning radio personality, and attorney Stephen Stubbs have urged scrutiny of Sanson.

The attorney general’s office said that per office policy, it could neither confirm nor deny whether there is an investigation. The district attorney’s office said officials there tried to contact DiCiero twice and received no calls back.

The real battle will be in civil court, once a judge can be found to take the defamation case. But Sanson may find that his attempts to warm up to local judges have backfired if all judges recuse themselves.

What an embarrassment for the judiciary.

Here’s the kicker. On Thursday, DiCiero filed his own defamation lawsuit against Sanson and several others, citing comments posted on social media.

Who will take that case?

A previous version of this column incorrectly called Veterans in Politics International a for-profit company.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Sundays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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