Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Old-fashioned courtroom posturing has turned into nasty verbal sparring between Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin and Las Vegas attorney Jim Pisanelli in the high-stakes legal battle over Sheldon Adelson’s gaming empire in Macau.
Hardin — who spent time on Capitol Hill defending baseball great Roger Clemens against accusations of steroid use before coming to Las Vegas to represent Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands Inc. — has a reputation for courtroom confrontations.
A few years ago in the Enron criminal case in Houston, Hardin got into a heated argument with the presiding federal judge, who called one of his defense tactics “the most underhanded thing I’ve ever seen.” Hardin promptly yelled back that the judge was biased against his client, the then-embattled Arthur Andersen accounting firm.
Hardin has been nearly as combative in the courtroom of District Judge Michelle Leavitt during the Las Vegas Sands trial. Pisanelli’s client, Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen, is suing Adelson’s company for compensation he says he is owed for helping pave the way for its lucrative gaming license in Macau.
Last week, while arguing in front of Leavitt outside the presence of the jury, Hardin took some potshots at the cerebral Pisanelli, several times calling him a “jerk.” Hardin also referred to his veteran legal adversary as “snotty.”
On Monday, as Hardin tried to take the wind out of Pisanelli’s pitch to Leavitt that Las Vegas Sands President Bill Weidner scripted his testimony in the civil trial, Hardin glared at Pisanelli and drawled, “You’re a child.” That drew a bewildered response from Pisanelli and prompted Leavitt to restore order.
Pisanelli had suggested to Leavitt that handwritten notes Weidner brought to the witness stand were proof that the casino executive’s testimony was orchestrated. The word “sigh” was in the seven pages of legal pad notes, and Weidner did sigh while on the stand, at a point when his testimony matched notes near the word “sigh.”
Weidner denied under oath scripting his testimony and said he had scribbled “sigh” to remind him not to sigh.
It is unusual for a witness to bring notes to the witness stand, so Pisanelli wanted them made part of the court record for the eight-member jury to see. Hardin argued that the notes were protected under attorney-client privilege. But Leavitt sided with Pisanelli and ordered them into the record.
Amid the name-calling, Pisanelli got emotional himself as he completed his argument, telling Leavitt, “This jury is entitled to know they were played for a fool.”
One of the more interesting observers at the Las Vegas Sands trial has been local attorney Don Campbell, who is representing a group of other plaintiffs suing Adelson and the company for a piece of the Macau action.
Campbell’s clients, led by former Steve Wynn executive Darryl “Dax” Turok, contend they also helped Adelson land the Macau license and have not been compensated for it. Their case is scheduled to go to trial in January before District Judge Kenneth Cory.
Campbell has spent every day in Leavitt’s courtroom taking notes and consulting during breaks with Pisanelli and the rest of Suen’s legal team.
At one point in the trial last week, Campbell made a formal appearance on behalf of Las Vegas Review-Journal Editor Thomas Mitchell, who sought to ensure that reporters could bring tape recorders to court to capture every word of Adelson’s and Weidner’s testimonies.
The Nevada Division of Investigations is wrapping up its yearlong criminal probe into the possible destruction of documents at the state treasurer’s office.
Sources say state agents expect to turn over their evidence within a couple of weeks to the Nevada attorney general’s office, which will decide whether to file charges.
The investigation has focused on allegations that Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki ordered a purge of records as he ended his tenure as treasurer in December 2006.
Word that the state investigation is winding down comes amid rumblings the FBI has taken an interest in the case.
So far, however, the FBI is denying any involvement.