How often is a judge "randomly" assigned to five simultaneous, unrelated civil trials that include the same litigant? Never - until recently.
The court system in Clark County provides for a random selection process that assigns judges to cases. This process was meant to guarantee - until of late - that the same judge would not preside over multiple current trials involving the same litigant.
Though such a coincidence is not illegal or prohibited, the random selection process is designed to help judges avoid the appearance of impropriety that would result if one particular judge seemed to always be selected to preside over cases brought for or against the same party.
Clark County District Court Judge Nancy M. Saitta, up until a short while ago, was the exception to the rule.
On July 30, 1997, the family of Scott David Fau filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Crazy Horse Too after Fau was found beaten to death on railroad tracks behind the topless bar. This case was randomly assigned to Judge Saitta.
Then on September 19, 2000, Crazy Horse owner Frederick Rizzolo filed a libel lawsuit against his neighbor, Buffalo Jim Barrier, a man who Rizzolo wishes to evict to make way for the expansion of his bar. This case was also "randomly" assigned to Judge Saitta.
It is not implausible that testimony in one case could affect the impartiality of the same Judge also hearing the second case. Because of this possibility, Judge Saitta was asked to step down, but following Rizzolo's objections, she refused.
Frederick Rizzolo was one of the four biggest contributors to Judge Saitta's last political campaign. This in itself is not a legal reason for her disqualification, but I believe it's worth mentioning.
In the meantime, Judge Saitta granted motions made by Rizzolo that adversely affected the opposing parties. One was to dismiss a Racketeering charge brought by Barrier; the other was to force Barrier to pay Rizzolo's lawyer $4,000 in legal fees.
Then, on July 6, 2001, without notice, Judge Saitta dismissed the Fau wrongful death case entirely just two weeks before it was scheduled to go to jury trial.
Fau's attorney immediately appealed her untimely decision to the Nevada Supreme Court, then five weeks later, on August 14, Judge Saitta abruptly changed her mind, reversed her ruling, and set a new trial date.
The second trial was scheduled for March 18, 2002, but on March 12, when Fau's attorney asked the judge to rule on the scope of testimony including evidence of confrontations and altercations before and after Fau's death; Rizzolo's motions to limit presentation of photos of the decedent; the transcript of the taped conversation with the alleged eyewitness to Fau's beating by bar bouncers; and evidence regarding prior felony convictions of two of Rizzolo's employees, Judge Saitta postponed her rulings and suddenly took the trial off her calendar - again - just one week before the trial was scheduled to begin!
Her two actions to stop the wrongful death trial on the eve of the trial devastated Scott Fau's widow and three daughters along with causing them to expend large sums of money - money they did not readily have. They are now awaiting their third trial date.
The Judge's actions also caused courthouse observers to question whether the judge had tried to obstruct justice?
In 1999, the Las Vegas Tribune began covering stories about alleged beatings at the Crazy Horse including the cases of Scott Fau, Kenneth Kirkpatrick, Jermaine Malcolm Simieou, and Kirk Henry. In January 2001, Rizzolo filed libel suits against the Tribune and this writer.
These libel actions were randomly assigned to Judge Alan Earl but were accepted by Judge Saitta after Rizzolo successfully made a motion to have them combined with his case against Barrier.
Then, in the August 22, 2001 edition of the Las Vegas Tribune, a front-page story quoted from the transcript of an interview with Dan Kennedy taped on January 24, 2001 wherein Kennedy claimed to witness the beating death of Fau.
Rizzolo sued Dan Kennedy for defamation.
It is unheard of for a judge to allow a litigant to sue a pending witness for defamation, but that is exactly what Judge Nancy Saitta permitted to occur when she amazingly consolidated the Dan Kennedy case with the four others involving Mr. Rizzolo!
Cannon 2 of the NEVADA CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT states: "A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities. A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
After extensive coverage in the Las Vegas Tribune, on May 24, 2002, Judge Saitta without explanation recused from the least important four of the five cases involving Mr. Rizzolo. However, she steadfastly remained on the most important case - the wrongful death of Scott David Fau - a case that could involve tens of millions of dollars in judgements.
Now, to remove the cloud of distrust hovering over her court, Judge Saitta must be honorable and distance herself from her major campaign contributor one last time. If she once again files for case reassignment and this time removes herself from the Fau case, Judge Nancy M. Saitta will have done her part in "promoting public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
If she refuses to recuse from the Fau case after her sudden and unexplained recusals from the other cases involving Rizzolo, she will have clearly established a foundation for a successful appeal by Fau's lawyers.
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