The public information officer for state courts in Las Vegas, Michael Sommermeyer, advised judges to say nothing in response to questions from The Times. "My recommendation is for all of the judges to refuse to comment," he said in an April 28 memo to Saitta.
Saitta was among three state judges who chose to ignore Sommermeyer's memo. "My job as a public servant has to be open to scrutiny by the public," she said. "I have to be answerable and subject to that scrutiny. I can't hide. I don't have anything to hide."
The lawyers who filled the crystal punch bowl with money at Judge Gene Porter's fundraiser at Big Bear certainly had reason to believe that he would not hesitate to hear their cases.
A Times review of lawsuits that came before Porter during his eight years on the bench shows that 61 presented possible conflicts of interest. In 50 of them, there is no statement in court records that he withdrew or disclosed the possibility of a conflict.
The 61 cases were found in a review of more than 2,000 legal actions involving members of his former law firm as well as his former legal clients, political allies, business associates and creditors.
One example involved Desert Springs Hospital in Las Vegas. Porter's law firm had listed the hospital as one of its "representative clients" in the Martindale-Hubble legal directory the year Porter was appointed to the bench. Porter had been the hospital's attorney of record in at least three lawsuits, court records show.
When six cases naming Desert Springs as the plaintiff or defendant came before Porter as a judge, there is no statement in court records that he revealed his former relationship to the hospital.
In a seventh case, in January 1997, he withdrew, saying, "Because this court represented Desert Springs at the time of this incident
But Porter did not withdraw from the other cases.
Similarly, in at least 15 cases, Porter did not disclose his longtime friendship with attorney Matthew Callister when he presided over Callister's cases. He and Callister had been friends since high school, and Callister became his close political ally when they served together in the state Assembly. Callister also served as a resident agent for a real estate company formed by Porter's wife.
In a lawsuit involving two business executives from California, Porter appointed Callister as a $200-an-hour receiver, or caretaker of assets. One of the executives, Irenemarie Kennedy of Laguna Niguel, had sued Ashik Patel of Orange, her partner in Seaspan Inc., a hotel management firm incorporated in Nevada.
Porter instructed Callister to run the company during the dispute, replacing another receiver appointed two weeks earlier by another judge. "I wasn't happy," Patel said in an interview. Soon, Patel said, he learned "that the judge and Callister were buddies." Then, Patel said, he made another discovery: "Callister had an association with the other side."
According to court documents submitted by Patel's lawyer and records in the Nevada secretary of state's office, while Callister was serving as receiver in the Seaspan suit, he or his law firm were resident agents for two other corporations and a partnership formed by Kennedy -- and he had been doing legal work for Kennedy and her family lawyer.
Patel's lawyer, Samuel B. Benham, asked Porter to allow Callister to withdraw. Court records show that Porter denied the request without comment.
Callister declined to be interviewed and did not respond to written questions.
Kennedy did not return phone calls. Instead a man identifying himself as "Mike Walker, an advisor to the Kennedys," responded, saying: "I don't know if the relationship between Callister and the judge was disclosed at the time, but afterward we did learn they had a relationship. But I met with Callister at least five times, and he was objective and is doing a good job."
In 2002, Porter was reelected to a six-year term. In a campaign fundraising report filed Jan. 10, 2003, he said he still had $32,816 "cash on hand." Porter resigned that September, saying financial considerations forced him from the bench.
As of this week, Secretary of State Heller said, Porter had not met a requirement to file an accounting of his unspent campaign money.
Licensed to practice in Nevada and California, Porter has joined a Las Vegas-Los Angeles law firm and serves as a private judge for Alternative Resolution Centers, a mediation and arbitration firm that provides settlement and fact-finding services in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
The fight was over a company with a subsidiary that made a liposuction machine, which guzzles fat from loins, necks, thighs and waists.
The company was Medical Device Alliance Inc., incorporated in Nevada but whose subsidiary was based in Carpinteria, Calif. Minority shareholders said Donald McGhan, its founder and chief executive officer, should be removed. McGhan fought back. The dispute landed in the courtroom of Judge Nancy M. Saitta.