John Locher / AP
Published Monday, April 4, 2016 | 3:20 p.m.
Updated Monday, April 4, 2016 | 6:16 p.m.
Nevada's highest court is being asked if a political group defamed casino mogul Sheldon Adelson in 2012 with an Internet ad alleging that he used prostitution-tainted money from casinos in China to fund Republican presidential campaigns in the United States.
A key question during Nevada Supreme Court oral arguments on Monday was whether online point-and-click "hyperlinks" are comparable to footnotes on a printed page — and whether they were enough to inform ad readers that Adelson denied the prostitution claim when it was made in a civil lawsuit.
"This Web page wasn't designed to be fair," Daniel Polsenberg, an attorney for Adelson, told the five justices hearing the case. "It states that Mr. Adelson approved of prostitution. That's not enough."
Lee Levine, attorney for the National Jewish Democratic Council, said hyperlinks are familiar to most Internet users, and as convenient for readers as footnotes and endnotes in books and articles.
The justices also heard related arguments about whether Nevada's anti-SLAPP law protected the council when criticizing one of the world's wealthiest men. The statute aims to prevent so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation.
Adelson accuses the Washington-based council and two of its executives of "assassinating" his character by falsely claiming that he personally approved illegal activities in Macau resorts owned by Sands China Limited, a subsidiary of Las Vegas Sands.
Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands, denied the claims when they were made public as part of a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in Nevada state court by former Sands China executive Steven Jacobs. That case is not yet resolved.
The council followed with an online ad urging readers to sign a petition telling then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney to reject money from Adelson, a prominent donor to GOP causes. The council noted that Adelson also contributed heavily to the failed primary bid of former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Adelson sued the council in federal court in New York, where the case was dismissed. He then appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which directed the Nevada Supreme Court to hear the hyperlink and SLAPP issues.
Adelson didn't attend oral arguments Monday in Las Vegas, where the state high court on Tuesday will take up another appeal stemming from the ongoing Adelson-Jacobs lawsuit.
In that case, Adelson wants the Clark County District Court judge who has heard the case for several years removed from the proceedings as biased. The administrative judge of the court in Las Vegas rejected that effort.