Hell hath no fury like a politician who has had his snout pulled out of the public trough by the electorate.
When voters in 2004 tossed Family Court Judge Robert Lueck out of office along with his $138,000-a-year salary — despite an editorial endorsement by the Review-Journal, by the bye — it was tough for him to continue making his monthly child support payments, and he fell behind.
There was some legal wrangling in court, largely out of the public eye.
Lueck decided private practice was not as lucrative as life on the bench. So in 2006, he sought a newly created seat on the Family Court. Review-Journal reporter Ed Vogel, after reviewing publicly filed pleadings before the Nevada Supreme Court, reported state Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta, while serving on the District Court in Las Vegas, had sealed Lueck’s court records and issued a gag order for all parties involved without so much as a written request to do so.
“One of the worst things that can be said about campaigning is that we use things against one another,” Saitta said at the time of the sealing. “This is a situation where I don’t want to see this thing being used in the campaign for anybody’s sake.”
Silly me, I thought it was up to the voters to decide what information is significant in a judicial campaign.
I did not know judges can protect each other from such scrutiny. Whether a man who seeks to hold the power of financial life and death in the form of child support payments and alimony is capable of following those orders himself seems pertinent.
That November, Lueck again was defeated at the polls by a wide margin.
Rather than accept the will of the voters, Lueck sued the Review-Journal for libel.
Among his adjective-laced claims of damage and defamation were such legalistic flourishes as: “This is a journalistic shame and a journalistic sham because this penny ante child support dispute going back months before the story appeared did not even qualify as ‘news’ and it certainly wasn’t breaking news.”
He’s not only a lawyer, he’s an editor.
Lueck’s lawsuit claimed his child support lapse was a private matter and he had eventually paid in full anyway.
At the time the story broke, during the heat of the election, Lueck had the audacity to say the story should help him win. “I am not the only person that has gone through ugly stuff,” Lueck said at the time. “What has happened to me is happening to a lot of people out there. I know what happens.”
But then he sued us for helping him out.
The libel lawsuit was so ridiculous on its face that our attorneys, Don Campbell and Colby Williams, filed for summary judgment, citing the truthfulness of the stories and the fair reporting privilege.
Lueck filed a 39-page, table-pounding response to the motion for summary judgment that redefines hyperbole. He quotes Shakespeare (“filches from me my good name”), the Ninth Commandment (false witness), Thomas Jefferson, me, columnist Jane Ann Morrison and the occasional court opinion.
At one point he quotes from one of my columns, in which I pontificated about having respect for “those who engage in debate with facts and figures, who cite precedent, who quote documents and authorities, who turn a clever phrase, who craft a believable forecast, who use logic, allegory and analysis — even if you ultimately disagree.”
He follows this paean to prose with the terse comment: “Spare us the bull, Tom.” He must have liked the sound of that, because he used it again on the next page.
At one point in his rambling screed on tabloidistas, malice, vilification and sensationalism, Lueck said the Review-Journal is no longer a credible newspaper because we editorially endorsed “two of the absolute worst public officials in the history of Nevada: Elizabeth Halverson for District Judge and Jim Gibbons for governor.”
Did I mention we endorsed Lueck in 2004?
A week ago, Judge Ken Cory granted our motion for summary judgment.
The judge found the articles in question were fair and accurate reports of public records. “The opening paragraph and caption of the article, which are complained of by Lueck, fairly and accurately report two of the central accusations being made in the Petition — that Judge Saitta was providing Lueck with favorable treatment based on his status as a former judge, and that Lueck had failed to pay child support,” the judge writes.
The facts were on our side. The law was on our side. Lueck was just pounding on the table.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at lvrj.com/blogs/mitchell.