Monday, May 21, 2007 | 7:49 a.m.
Prosecutors are demanding that a prominent Las Vegas attorney be barred from representing a defendant in the high-profile Palomino Club murder case, claiming he has a conflict of interest by also representing the defendant's father.
The Clark County District Attorney's office has asked the state Supreme Court to disqualify Dominic Gentile from representing Luis Hidalgo III, one of five defendants in the 2005 slaying of Timothy Hadland.
Police suspect Hidalgo III's father, former Palomino strip club owner Luis Hidalgo Jr., is the mastermind of the murder-for-hire although he hasn't been charged in the case.
Prosecutors claim that by representing both Hidalgos, Gentile, wittingly or unwittingly, could be helping to make sure that the son never testifies about his father's involvement in the crime - even if that means the son faces the death penalty if convicted.
That could prevent police from making a case against Hidalgo Jr., whom they believe set up Hadland's murder. Despite two years of investigating, prosecutors have not been able to charge him, because only one of the defendants in the case has pegged him for the crime, they say. They lack corroborating testimony - something they say Hidalgo III or other co-defendants could give them.
Gentile adamantly, sometimes profanely, denied the prosecutors' claims.
"There's no conflict of interest here at all," he said, noting that Hidalgo Jr. isn't a defendant in the case. He also has argued in court papers that both men have a Constitutional right to choose any attorney they want, and that right supersedes any possible conflict.
Gentile has further responded by arguing that both of his clients have signed declarations waiving concerns about any potential conflicts of interest.
In court papers, prosecutors claim that Hidalgo III has stated that he knew his father had ordered Hadland's execution.
Hidalgo III's best defense is that his father, whom prosecutors call "Mr. H" in court papers, originally conceived of Hadland's murder, Chief Deputy D.A. James Tufteland wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court late last year.
"It is beyond obvious that a lawyer representing the interests of Defendant Hidalgo cannot possibly represent the best interests of Mr. H, a potential defendant in the same crime," Tufteland wrote.
The lead prosecutors in the case, Deputy District Attorneys Mark DiGiacomo and Giancarlo Pesci, said recently that Gentile's dual father-son representation could damage their cases, ultimately, on several levels.
In addition to diminishing the chances that Hidalgo III would admit to his and his father's roles in Hadland's killing for a reduced sentence, on May 8 they argued to a Supreme Court panel that Gentile's dual representation could help ensure that even if Hidalgo III is convicted, any conviction could ultimately be discarded on appeal.
If the Supreme Court doesn't grant their request, Pesci said, it is likely federal appeals judges would conclude that Gentile's representation of both men resulted in Hidalgo III receiving ineffective counsel. That would mean any possible conviction would have to be thrown out.
"I don't want to try this case twice," Pesci said.
Prosecutors claim Gentile violated the Nevada State Bar's Rules of Professional Conduct by representing father and son. They note one of the rules that stipulates that attorneys should not represent a client if that would prove "directly adverse" to another client, or if it would pose a "significant risk" that such a representation would be limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client.
Gentile says he resents any notion that he may have violated that bar's professional conduct rules, which he says he helped write. Defense lawyers, including others involved in the case, defended Gentile's choice to represent both men, so long as both clients had consented.
"I don't think the state has any right to be concerned about what the defense does," said Kristina Wildeveld, the attorney for Kenneth Counts, the alleged shooter in the case. "I don't think there's any conflict of interest."
The law is somewhat hazy on the issue, according to Jeff Stempel, a UNLV Boyd Law School professor and legal ethics expert.
Stempel - who notes that he has worked with Gentile at UNLV and has served as an expert witness for him - said he doesn't like dual representation because ethical issues often come into play. "My own preference would be for separate attorneys," he said.
But because Hidalgo Jr. is only a suspect and has not been named as a defendant, "the law is on Dominic's side," Stempel said.
Hidalgo III, 26, and another defendant, Anabel Espindola, 35, are accused of hiring Counts and a man named Deangelo Carroll to kill Hadland for $6,000. Hadland's body was found May 19, 2005, on North Shore Road at Lake Mead. He had been shot twice in the head.
According to police and prosecutors, Hadland was killed because he had been bad-mouthing the Palomino Club, a North Las Vegas strip club, to cabbies, and also had been trashing Hidalgo Jr., then the owner of the club. Fliers for the Palomino Club were found scattered around Hadland's body.
Counts, 31, and Carroll, 26, were charged with murder with the use of a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit murder. Hidalgo III and Espindola, the girlfriend of Hidalgo Jr., additionally were charged with solicitation to commit murder.
All four face the death penalty if convicted. A fifth defendant, Jason "J.J." Taoipu, has also been charged in connection with the murder. Taoipu, a juvenile at the time of the murder, is not facing the death penalty. His trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 6.
Carroll's trial is slated to start today, and the combined trial for Hidalgo III, Espindola and Counts is currently scheduled for June 4. But it is likely that both will be delayed until later this year. A hearing on the topic will take place today before District Judge Valerie Adair.
Gentile, a veteran and well-regarded defense lawyer who once chaired the American Bar Association's Racketeering Cases Committee, has been involved in some of the highest profile cases in recent Nevada history.
He has represented former County Commissioner Lance Malone in the so-called G-sting bribery and political corruption case; the late state Controller Kathy Augustine during her 2004 impeachment proceedings; and a Mongols motorcycle gang member charged with participating in the 2002 Laughlin River Run riot.
(Gentile has also represented the Sun on First Amendment matters.)
In March 2006 Gentile acquired almost five acres of North Las Vegas property from Hidalgo Jr., on which the Palomino and two other strip clubs are situated, as payment for defending him in the Hadland investigation. Gentile's son, Adam, leases the property from his father and operates the Palomino.