Nevada high court ruling keeps judge on Las Vegas Sands case

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A state court judge in Las Vegas will continue to handle a lawsuit headed for trial involving billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s company and a former Sands China Ltd. chief executive, the Nevada Supreme Court said Wednesday.

The ruling dealt a blow to Adelson and Las Vegas Sands Corp., whose lawyers argued that Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez had a conflict of interest and should be removed.

Jury selection had been scheduled to start June 27 in a wrongful termination case poised to air boardroom decisions about how the publicly traded corporate owner of the Venetian and Palazzo resorts in Las Vegas developed its lucrative interests in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.

But that trial date has been canceled, according to the court docket. A new date wasn’t immediately posted.

Attorneys for fired former Sands China executive Steven Jacobs argued the challenge to Gonzalez was an effort to stall or scuttle a case filed in 2010 that Adelson doesn’t want a jury to hear.

Attorneys for Jacobs, Adelson and Las Vegas Sands didn’t immediately respond Wednesday to messages about the ruling. Attorney Steve Morris, representing Sands China, said he couldn’t comment. A Las Vegas Sands company spokesman declined to comment.

The high court ruling upheld a finding by supervising Clark County District Judge David Barker that Gonzalez didn’t exhibit bias when she was interviewed for a Time magazine story in January about the Adelson family buying the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper.

Harvard University Professor Alan Dershowitz, representing Sands China, told the state Supreme Court during oral arguments that judges shouldn’t make public statements about cases, and Gonzalez “should have known she was inviting trouble.”

Gonzalez answered questions about her background, the public nature of the Jacobs-Sands lawsuit, and her observations about Review-Journal reporters in her courtroom, the justices said. She maintained that she didn’t talk about the lawsuit itself.

The magazine story emerged amid revelations that Adelson family members were the previously undisclosed buyers of the Review-Journal, and that reporters from the newspaper had been assigned last year to watch Gonzalez’s work on the bench.

In court, Gonzalez has clashed numerous times with Adelson and Sands lawyers in the Jacobs case.

She fined Las Vegas Sands and Sands China $25,000 in 2012 for not turning over records as required to Jacobs and his lawyers. Last year, she fined Sands China $250,000 for similar violations.

Gonzalez also admonished Adelson during his testimony in open court last year, telling him that he didn’t get to argue with her.

The high court noted that in court filings in response to a Las Vegas Sands Corp. request that Gonzalez recuse herself, the judge stated that she had no bias or prejudice toward Las Vegas Sands or its officers.

The court ruling came the same day the Nevada Gaming Control Board announced in a separate case that Las Vegas Sands faces a $2 million fine for failing to properly account for millions of dollars paid to a Chinese consultant and received from a high roller with a suspicious past. The company admits no wrongdoing under the settlement slated for Nevada Gaming Commission approval May 19.

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