Joseph Saitta and his wife face scrutiny
Las Vegas Tribune
COMMENTARY: Steve Miller
May 29, 2002
The name Saitta is familiar to most Las Vegans. The most prominent member of the Saitta family is Clark County District Court Judge Nancy M. Saitta. The lesser known of the duo is Joseph Saitta, the former Special Agent in Charge of the Las Vegas office of the Secret Service who recently became the subject of some serious accusations of impropriety. Saitta is being accused by another Secret Service agent of covering-up evidence of counterfeit money discovered missing from the Secret Service evidence vault.
The fascinating story featured in this week's edition of U.S. News and World Report has not been widely covered by Las Vegas media possibly because Joseph Saitta's wife is currently running for reelection. Though the controversy surrounding the sudden departure of her husband from the Secret Service should not adversely reflect on his spouse, I believe it would serve the public's best interest at this time to review some previously published information about this judge.
Judge Saitta is presiding over several cases that are the subject of ongoing coverage by this newspaper. Those cases are: CAMILLE FAU v. THE CRAZY HORSE TOO; FREDERICK RIZZOLO v. JAMES BARRIER; FREDERICK RIZZOLO v. DAN KENNEDY; FREDERICK RIZZOLO v. THE LAS VEGAS TRIBUNE; and FREDERICK RIZZOLO v. STEVE MILLER.
Rizzolo is suing Barrier, Kennedy, the Tribune and this writer for defamation of character. I believe his legal action is harassment intended to stop reports of violent acts at his business, the Crazy Horse Too topless bar. To prove my point, his attorneys have never made a demand for retraction or correction regarding the veracity of our news stories and editorials prior to or subsequent to the filing of the lawsuits.
Meanwhile, Judge Saitta has granted Rizzolo's motion for an "Expedited trial setting," and has scheduled a jury trial for August 8.
On two occasions, peremptory challenge motions were filed to remove Judge Saitta from the above cases, but on both occasions Judge Saitta would not recuse and the motions were overturned.
As basis for one peremptory challenge, on August 20, 2001, Judge Saitta made the following statement in open court, which we feel is prejudicial: "Mr. Rizzolo has a good name in the community." She made the statement during a hearing wherein she dismissed conspiracy and civil RICO causes against Rizzolo that were filed by James Barrier, Rizzolo's next door neighbor. Judge Saitta then sanctioned Barrier $4,000 because his former attorney showed up late for the hearing.
Attorney Gus Flangas now represents Barrier. Chris Rasmussen represents the Tribune. Patti Sgro represents Rizzolo.
Frederick Rizzolo has been actively trying to have Barrier's long-term lease terminated in order to make room for an expansion of his topless bar. Barrier has successfully maintained his leasehold based on a previous judge's ruling.
On November 14, 2001, Judge Saitta reluctantly dismissed a motion requesting a gag order against the Las Vegas Tribune. Attorneys for the Review Journal and the American Civil Liberties Union were present at the hearing and most likely had an effect on Saitta's decision to allow our coverage of violent acts to continue.
The wrongful death case of Scott David Fau was originally filed on July 30, 1997. Judge Saitta, on March 13, 2002, vacated the trial date indefinitely just five days before the trial was scheduled to begin.
This was the second time in the Fau case's five year history that Judge Saitta had either vacated a trial date or dismissed the case entirely on the eve of the trial thereby causing the Fau family great anguish. Her first dismissal occurred on July 7, 2001, again, only a few days before trial. Judge Saitta reinstated the case after Fau's attorney, Randall Pike, appealed her untimely dismissal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
If Judge Saitta reschedules the Fau trial for the third time, she must first rule on the Defendant's motions to limit testimony concerning prior and subsequent violent acts at the Crazy Horse Too. If she allows such testimony, Las Vegas Tribune news articles may appear as evidence.
Defendant Rizzolo on March 12, 2002, asked Judge Saitta to limit presentation of evidence of the felony convictions of Crazy Horse employees Joseph Blasko and Paul Luca; photos of descendant Scott David Fau; testimony by Edwin Rivera regarding the cause of Fau's death; and the taped transcript of Dan Kennedy, an alleged eyewitness to Fau's fatal beating.
Rizzolo filed an unprecedented defamation lawsuit against Dan Kennedy immediately following a Tribune news story that included a transcript of Kennedy's taped interview wherein Kennedy described various illegal acts he allegedly observed including Fau being beaten to death by club bouncers.
Even though Kennedy was a key witness expected to testify for the Fau family, Judge Saitta let the lawsuit against him stand. After learning of the lawsuit, Kennedy recanted his taped statement in an affidavit prepared by Rizzolo's attorneys. Rizzolo hand delivered the notarized affidavit to reporters. Judge Saitta then dismissed Kennedy as a witness after he could not be located to be served a subpoena.
On April 24, 2001, all cases brought by Frederick Rizzolo against Kennedy, Barrier, the Tribune, and myself were consolidated into Judge Saitta's court. Meanwhile, the Fau case also remained on Judge Saitta's docket. According to another District Court judge, her acceptance of so many cases involving the same litigant is highly unusual but not prohibited.
In a September 12, 2001, Editorial, the Las Vegas Tribune called for Judge Saitta to recuse from all cases involving this newspaper citing Cannon 2 of the NEVADA CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT which states: "A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities." She again refused.
Another case involving Rizzolo, the first to be randomly assigned to another judge, involved the September 20, 2001, beating of Kansas tourist Kirk Henry who was rendered a paraplegic after an encounter with Crazy Horse Too bouncers. In March, Rizzolo's attorneys also asked Judge Saitta to disallow mention of this incident if and when the Fau case goes to trial in her court.
Henry will be represented by attorney Donald Campbell in the court of Judge Jeffery Sobel.
Frederick Rizzolo is a generous political campaign contributor who donates between $75,000 and $100,000 per year to candidates for judicial positions, city council, county commission, and district attorney. Rizzolo was one of the four biggest financial contributors to Judge Saitta's previous campaign.
Steve Miller, as a former Las Vegas City Councilman, was the author and sponsor of the Las Vegas Ethics in Government Law. Visit his website at: http://www.SteveMiller4LasVegas.com
Editor’s note: Late Friday afternoon, Judge Saitta suddenly removed herself from the four Defamation cases cited above. However, she held tight to the Wrongful Death civil action brought by the family of Scott David Fau. Her recusal from only the least important of the five cases involving her biggest campaign contributor appear on the surface to be based on this newspaper’s criticism of her clinging to so many court actions involving the same litigant. This newspaper believes that Mr. Rizzolo stands to gain the most from Judge Saitta remaining on the Fau case, therefore Judge Saitta’s transparent recusals from his baseless Defamation actions help to confirm our suspicion that she has been seriously compromised and, more than ever, should distance herself from ALL cases involving Mr. Rizzolo. Since her recusals incredulously came on the eve of the Tribune going to press, we feel that she was informed in advance of Mr. Miller’s column. Her act of partial recusal does not impress us, and this newspaper continues to adamantly demand that Judge Saitta do the honorable thing and step down from the Fau case. Judge Nancy M. Saitta has obviously tried to obstruct this important case at every opportunity. An impartial judge must immediately be assigned so that a trial can be scheduled and justice rendered before any more persons are maimed or killed.