Thursday, Sept. 22, 2011 | 1:37 p.m.
Las Vegas entertainers Siegfried & Roy have won a $37,415 court award against attorneys who have been suing Roy over sexual harassment allegations.
U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt in Las Vegas this week ordered attorneys for Oliver Preiss, a former personal assistant to Roy Horn, and for Preiss’s wife Beatrice; to pay the $37,415 as a sanction for asserting baseless legal claims against Horn and a company owned by Siegfried and Roy.
Preiss made headlines last year with a lawsuit filed in Clark County District with sensational allegations that while working for Horn, he was subjected to sexual overtures by both Siegfried Fischbacher and Horn; that they maintained a "very sexualized home’’ and that he was fired by Horn after rejecting Horn’s sexual advances. The case was later moved to federal court.
Preiss was described in the litigation as a married heterosexual physical therapist who had been hired to assist Horn with basic needs like grooming and getting dressed. Horn needed this assistance after suffering disabling injuries when he was attacked by a tiger during a 2003 show at the Mirage.
In responding to the lawsuit, attorneys for Siegfried and Roy described Preiss’s lawsuit as a legal shakedown.
"Mr. Preiss took advantage of Roy’s trust, his age and his medical condition in a scheme to extract from Roy the fruits of his successful show. Specifically, as alleged in the complaint, Mr. Preiss somehow obtained so-called `surveillance videos’ of supposed sexual conduct that took place in the privacy of Roy’s home. When these purported `surveillance’ videos failed to produce a monetary payoff, Mr. Preiss resorted to a different strategy: he claimed (for the first time) that the purported conduct that took place in Roy’s own home somehow created a hostile `work environment’ because that was where Mr. Preiss worked,’’ Horn’s attorneys wrote in a motion for dismissal.
They also said Preiss’s attorneys had "made this litigation as expensive and as publicly embarrassing as possible’’ for Siegfried and Roy.
They said the attorneys initially demanded $500,000 from Horn personally and when he refused to pay, they threatened to initiate a criminal investigation and "released surreptitious video recordings of Roy to the National Enquirer, and later posted a hidden camera recording of a conversation between Roy, Mr. Preiss, and a third party’’ on YouTube.
They said Preiss’s lawsuit was legally deficient because Preiss had previously said under oath that he had quit, as opposed to being fired; that he falsely claimed to be working for a Siegfried and Roy company called S&R Production Co. when in fact he worked for Horn personally; and that Horn was not subject to harassment claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 since Horn is not a company.
After Preiss’s attorneys voluntarily dismissed parts of the lawsuit, Hunt on March 17 dismissed the entire lawsuit. It was then re-filed in the state court, Clark County District Court.
While the case was in federal court, Hunt this week ruled, "Plaintiffs wasted this court’s and defendants’ time and resources by challenging defendants’ motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs’ claims were not simply without merit, but blatantly and undeniably so.’’
Hunt said a claim by Preiss’s wife Beatrice that she suffered emotional distress was "absurd.’’ Mr. Preiss at some point had shown his wife a video of activities at the Horn home.
To say she was emotionally shocked and harmed by Horn by her viewing the video was "ridiculous and nonsensical’’ under the law, Hunt ruled.
By arguing Preiss worked for S&R Production Co., the plaintiffs "needlessly, unreasonably, and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings in bad faith,’’ Hunt ruled.
Because of these claims, plus "frivolous’’ claims that Hunt lacked jurisdiction in the case and "the subjective bad faith demonstrated by plaintiffs’ arguments and method of litigating this case,’’ Hunt ordered them to pay the attorney’s fees to the Siegfried and Roy company and to Horn as a sanction.
The attorneys for Preiss, however, received a break when Hunt reduced Siegfried and Roy’s attorney’s fees request from $109,000 to the $37,415.
The Preisses were last represented in the federal case by attorneys Sharon Nelson of Las Vegas and Mike Meier of Cabin John, Md.
In a court filing opposing an award of fees against them, they said, among other things: "Plaintiffs’ counsel had a good faith basis for the legal arguments presented.’’
The state lawsuit, in the meantime, remains active with attorneys for Siegfried and Roy hitting Preiss and others with a counterclaim on Aug. 8.
That claim says Preiss moved to Las Vegas in 2008 to run a tour business called German Las Vegas Service catering to German tourists.
The claim says Preiss had targeted Siegfried and Roy in hopes they would "adopt’’ him and after working his way into their lives, he convinced Horn he was a skilled therapist whose treatments could alleviate Horn’s ailments.
"However, Preiss was not a skilled therapist and he lacked any of the requisite licensing from the state of Nevada,’’ the counterclaim charges, adding Preiss gained Horn’s confidence and then performed unconventional and dangerous treatments on Horn.
Charging he "swindled’’ Siegfried and Roy with "quack remedies,’’ the counterclaim says "Preiss resorted to sexual advances in a bid do increase his influence over Siegfried and Roy.’’
He then started secretly videotaping Horn in violation of a confidentiality agreement and then had his attorney demand the $500,000 to resolve his hostile work environment claim confidentially, the counterclaim says.
The counterclaim charges Preiss provided some of the video to the National Enquirer for an Aug. 16, 2010, story called "Siegfried & Roy Sex Shocker’’ and asserts legal counts of breach of contract, fraudulent inducement to contract the services of Preiss, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intrusion, publication of private facts, violation of the Nevada and federal anti-wiretapping statutes, conversion, elder abuse (Siegfried and Roy are both over 60) and abuse of process.
In moving to dismiss the counterclaim Sept. 6, attorneys for Preiss said Nevada has a strong public policy against assault and battery and therefore any alleged confidentiality agreements are "against public policy.’’
That lawsuit now includes three other male employees who said they assisted Siegfried and Roy in various household and personal tasks.
The suit charges Horn sexually harassed, assaulted and battered three of the men: Preiss, Jayson Dondon and Dojie Macandog; and that Fischbacher sexually harassed, assaulted and battered Don Kruno.
"All plaintiffs were forced to resign as a result of this incessant harassment. Videotaped evidence shows Horn sexually assaulting and battering a number of his employees/assistants,’’ the legal filing said. "Despite the injuries suffered during the tiger attack, defendant Horn still has full strength in his right arm, his mental facilities and the ability to conduct various business and daily activities without assistance. The surveillance videos show defendant Horn forcefully manhandling the male employees to kiss or fondle them.’’
The plaintiffs’ latest filing in the state case was made by attorneys Meier and Andrew Rempfer of Cogburn Law Offices in Las Vegas.
All of the plaintiffs’ allegations have been denied by Siegfried and Roy.
Siegfried and Roy are represented in the litigation by Las Vegas attorneys John Moran Jr. and Jeffery Bendavid; and by Los Angeles attorneys Marvin Putnam and Matthew Mrkonic.