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State Bar grievance means Noel Gage may not be out of the woods yet

Just because a federal judge dismissed criminal charges against Las Vegas attorney Noel Gage doesn’t mean his senior years are guaranteed to be golden. The dismissal doesn’t mean Gage has been vindicated. Or even that the charges will remain dismissed.

Plus, the 70-year-old attorney faces another legal challenge. The State Bar of Nevada filed a grievance in March against Gage during his fraud and conspiracy trial, and that could affect his ability to practice law, depending on the outcome.

“The investigation is continuing,” said Assistant Bar Counsel Phillip Pattee. “It will be presented, hopefully in the near future, to a Southern Nevada disciplinary screening panel.”

The state bar has a rule that attorneys cannot split fees with nonlawyers. During the trial, there was testimony and evidence of payments Gage made to medical consultant Howard Awand after he started referring personal injury cases to Gage.

A disciplinary screening panel will decide whether to recommend dismissing or pursuing the grievance. If the bar files a formal complaint, a hearing is held. Any serious disciplinary action, such as a public reprimand, suspension or disbarment, goes to the Nevada Supreme Court for a final decision.

The state bar appeared to be waiting to see how the criminal case was resolved. If Gage was convicted and sentenced, he wouldn’t be practicing law and there wouldn’t be much of a need to seek disciplinary action.

“The State Bar won’t do anything,” one Las Vegas attorney said with disgust.

The bar has the reputation for not aggressively disciplining attorneys, similar to the reputation the Board of Medical Examiners has when it comes to disciplining doctors.

But Pattee said the bar hasn’t been sitting on its thumbs.

He said of the 9,528 lawyers in Nevada, 403 are on suspension (which seems like a pretty high number). There are 81 open grievance files, including Gage’s. In 2007, three lawyers were disbarred, four were suspended and six were publicly reprimanded.

Meanwhile, if the U.S. attorney’s office decides to appeal U.S. District Judge Justin Quackenbush’s dismissal of the indictment, that process could take several years to resolve.

Quackenbush tossed the case out. He said prosecutors hadn’t been fair to Gage, because they refused to grant Dr. Mark Kabins immunity so he could testify on Gage’s behalf and rebut the testimony of his former partner, Dr. John Thalgott.

Thalgott admitted he and Kabins conspired with Gage and Awand to avoid being sued for malpractice in their treatment of Melodie Simon, now a paraplegic. Thalgott was a cooperating witness for the government, and Kabins was formally notified Jan. 30 he was a grand jury target. Two weeks later, long before Gage went on trial, Kabins sought immunity. The government said no, partly because Kabins wouldn’t admit he did anything wrong.

The feds may have lost Gage, maybe permanently. But I’ll bet my cat that Kabins, an “as-yet unindicted co-conspirator” of Awand’s, will be indicted, particularly in light of his role leading to the dismissal of the charges against Gage.

Meanwhile, the government quietly charged Howard Awand and his wife Linda on misdemeanor tax charges, on April 15 no less. Obviously, the government filed the tax charges to pressure Awand to flip before his criminal fraud case set for Oct. 14 before Quackenbush.

The Awands, who now run a bed and breakfast in Indiana, are scheduled to go to trial July 15 before U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson on charges of failing to pay their taxes.

A guilty verdict on the tax charges might pressure Awand (or his wife) to cooperate with the federal government, because the government alleges he was “the go-between,” the middleman who found lucrative personal injury cases, referred them to local attorneys, and arranged for doctors to testify favorably. (At least one doctor says he lied to help win a case.)

Awand is the guy in the middle of everything. And for him and his wife, the next five or six months are not going to be as relaxing as running the Rosemont Inn on the banks of the Ohio River.

He can confirm that with Noel Gage, a man who still faces legal woes, despite Tuesday’s victory.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275.

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