Las Vegas Sun

August 24, 2017

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R-J sale: Clues surface in mystery article critical of Las Vegas judge

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John Locher / AP

An exterior photo of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

New information strongly suggests that a publisher associated with the family of Sheldon Adelson is the author, or directed the author, of a mysterious article sharply critical of the Clark County District Court judge presiding over a case involving Adelson.

Publisher and Editor Michael E. Schroeder appears to be “Edward Clarkin,” the author of an article critical of highly regarded Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.

Schroeder was introduced to Las Vegas two weeks ago as the manager of News + Media Capital Group, LLC, the Adelson family company that purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal in a surprise transaction.

Gonzalez presides over a wrongful termination lawsuit against Sands China, where Adelson is the CEO. Adelson and Gonzalez have been involved in sharp exchanges in court. Also, the judge has fined Sands China for withholding evidence.

According to reports in the Review-Journal last week, Gonzalez has been the target of intense scrutiny directed by the past owners — and current managers — of the Review-Journal while the sale was being completed.

In addition to his role with News + Media, Schroeder is the publisher of two small newspapers in Connecticut, including the New Britain Herald, which published the article about Gonzalez in the weeks before the R-J purchase.

The article, also published on the Internet, panned Gonzalez for her rulings in the Sands China case.

The Hartford Courant on Wednesday published a story suggesting the quotes in the Gonzalez story were fabricated. On Twitter, users pointed out that other lines were lifted from another source. The Courant contacted people quoted in the story and none of them said they were interviewed for the story or recalled saying the words attributed them.

Reporters at multiple newspapers have not been able to identify “Edward Clarkin.” No address for someone of that name could be found in searches of Connecticut public records. Schroeder refused to shed light on “Clarkin's” identity when contacted last week.

Despite this, there is compelling circumstantial evidence that “Edward Clarkin” is a pseudonym used by Schroeder or someone close to Schroeder working at his direction. The publisher’s middle name is Edward, and his Facebook page at one time identified his mother as Karen Clarkin Carey. That reference was removed from the page, but the Facebook page for Karen Clarkin Carey contained a photo of Carey with Schroeder.

The name “Edward Clarkin” has followed Schroeder in the publications he has worked at. “Clarkin” appears to have written a handful of restaurant reviews for the New Britain Herald after Schroeder took over. There are several restaurant reviews under the byline Michael E. Schroeder for Newsday, where he worked earlier in his career.

No editors at any of Schroeder-run publications where “Edward Clarkin” had bylines have gone on record with his identity and the Courant story said stories carrying that byline were simply given to them to run.

When reached last week, Schroeder denied that “Clarkin” was his own pseudonym.

When pressed to identify the author, he said, “I’m sorry, I wish I could.” Asked later if he knew the identity, he said, “I don’t know.” At one point, the editor and publisher said: “Why would I?”

A review penned in “Clarkin’s” name also appears on the book jacket of a mystery series written by Keith Donnelly. “I don’t know exactly who that is,” Donnelly said, guessing the name is a pseudonym. “I think he used to be in Boston.” According to Amazon, at least one of “Clarkin’s” book reviews appeared in the defunct BostonNOW, a free newspaper Schroeder also published.

“We have nobody by that name at this paper,” said a receptionist at the New Britain Herald when reached last week. The request to speak with “Edward Clarkin” was forwarded to Schroeder’s voice mail.

“At the very least, the editor or someone at the paper should be able to connect you with the journalist who wrote the story,” Andrew Seaman, an ethics committee chairman for the Society of Professional Journalists, an industry group that joined several politicians and journalists to criticize the secrecy of the sale, said in an email to the Sun. “In my opinion, it would be odd for no one at the paper to know the person who wrote a long in-depth article less than a month ago.”

Amid speculation about the identity issue, the Courant’s story quoted sources saying they had not been contacted for the “Clarkin” story critical of Gonzalez. In addition, sentences from the story were directly lifted from an article on the American Bar Association website.

If those reports are accurate, the “Clarkin” story raises profound questions about violations of fundamental journalistic ethical guidelines and standards.

That matters in Las Vegas because of Schroeder’s connection to the R-J and to the Adelson family. When Schroeder announced the sale in an appearance at an R-J staff meeting, he identified himself as the manager of the new ownership group, which at that time hadn’t revealed its identity, and left some news staffers with the impression that he would be involved in the newspaper’s ownership decisions.

In the days since Adelson announced that he and his family were the buyers, R-J staffers have raised concerns about whether the Adelson family would attempt to influence editorial content.

The circumstances surrounding the Herald story critical of Gonzalez have raised questions among R-J news staffers about why the story appeared in the Connecticut paper. They have also expressed concerns about possible motives and what it might foretell for operations during an Adelson ownership at the R-J.

It is not clear precisely who directed the story about the judge and unusual scrutiny of Gonzalez or why it was done.

The story examined whether Connecticut should establish specialized business courts. Ten paragraphs of it focused on Gonzalez, who has been overseeing a multiyear wrongful-termination lawsuit involving the former CEO of Sands China. Gonzalez has ordered sanctions against Sands China for supposedly withholding documents, and she’s also clashed with Adelson in court, at one point saying, “Sir, you don’t get to argue with me.” Gonzalez has also been presiding over a separate case involving Wynn Resorts Ltd. CEO Steve Wynn and Japanese billionaire Kazuo Okada.

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In this May 4, 2015, file photo, Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson testifies in court in Las Vegas. Adelson has pulled out of a deal to build a $1.9 billion stadium for the Oakland Raiders in Las Vegas.

“Presiding over two different cases shouldn’t be a problem, but Gonzalez has made rulings that appear inconsistent and even contradictory between them,” the Connecticut article states. “Such behavior undermines the rationale for the creation of such courts in the first place — which was to provide reliable consistency, even predictability in the resolution of frequently recurring issues.”

(Gonzalez also presides over a lawsuit the Sun filed against one of the R-J’s previous owners. )

But despite the “Clarkin” story’s harsh portrayal of Gonzalez -- it noted that she had received a 24 percent “not adequate” score on a recent survey of Clark County attorneys conducted by the R-J -- she is well regarded by attorneys in Clark County. What the story didn’t say was that 76 percent of respondents to that same survey ranked Gonzalez adequate or more than adequate in that category. Overall, more than 80 percent of those surveyed recommended that Gonzalez be retained on the bench in both 2015 and 2011. That placed her in the top third of District Court judges both years.

Requests to Schroeder to comment on Wednesday about the identity of “Clarkin” were not returned.

In the days after the sale, Schroeder’s role was never clarified, leaving several staffers to wonder if he would have a hand in the paper’s operations. Mark Fabiani, a San Diego attorney retained by the new owners in the days after the sale, said Wednesday that Schroeder would not have a management role. He was retained as an adviser during the purchase and helped conduct due diligence, Fabiani said.

Even with Schroeder’s role clarified, there is still uncertainty about the direction of the newsroom. New Media Investment Group Inc., the R-J’s previous owner and the company that continues to operate it under the Adelson family’s ownership, also had a connection to Gonzalez, the judge handling the Sands China case.

About a month ago, New Media sought a report on three Clark County judges including Gonzalez, an assignment, described by one R-J staffer as having “no clear goal.” None of the 15,000 words compiled by the reporters assigned to the judges appeared in the R-J, the R-J reported. The assignment was handed down without explanation from New Media, although the corporate office said it did not specify which judges the reporters were to observe. The reporters’ diaries were submitted in mid-November to R-J Publisher Jason Taylor and the newspaper’s attorney. Taylor told the R-J they were not sent to New Media.

Mike Hengel, the editor of the R-J since 2010, stepped down abruptly Tuesday evening after taking a voluntary buyout. The new management is searching for an interim editor and a permanent editor to replace him.

When the R-J ownership change was announced, Taylor told the staff he had been given an assurance that the new owners would not meddle in editorial operations.

On Wednesday, the owners published a front-page message to readers saying they would invest in the publication, would “publish a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate” and “would regard ourselves as stewards of this essential institution.”

In a recent interview with Reuters in Macau, Adelson said his family bought the R-J for financial reasons, not as a tool for exercising political influence.

"This newspaper has been making money... we left the (everyday) operation in the hands of the owner from who we bought it," Adelson said. "We are not going to hire an editor, we left it up to them (current management), period.”

Sun researcher Rebecca Clifford-Cruz contributed to this story

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