In June 1999, she appointed George C. Swarts, a certified public accountant, as a receiver -- someone to run the company while it was embroiled in the dispute.
Within six months, McGhan and a second, separate group of stockholders filed complaints that Swarts' decisions were biased, lacked expertise and often were unauthorized by Saitta.
Privately, attorneys expressed dismay. "George [Swarts] had inordinate power" with the judge, Alfred E. Augustini, a Los Angeles attorney and legal advisor to McGhan, said in an interview. Swarts "would threaten us, tell us, 'The judge will do anything I ask, whatever I present to her.' George was running the case. We had to yield to George ... comfort George ... agree with George. He was God
What Swarts wanted most of all, Augustini said, was "to keep the meter running." The case was in limbo, he said, and "limbo was paying very well."
Swarts' fees were mounting.
"We tried to get Saitta to fire Swarts," Augustini said, "but that only made things worse."
McGhan tried to disqualify Saitta from the case.
"Judge Saitta has publicly pronounced McGhan guilty three times without hearing the evidence or the testimony of witnesses," said his Nevada attorneys, Steve Morris and Todd L. Bice, in a motion filed in August 2000. "By passing judgment ... without a trial, Judge Saitta can no longer be considered a fair and neutral arbiter.... Under the law, she is required to step aside."
Swarts' attorneys countered that the real target of the attack was Swarts.
The request to remove Saitta went before Lee Gates, the chief judge in Las Vegas at the time.
But Gates had a possible conflict. An attorney from the Frank Ellis law firm, which often represented Swarts, was defending Gates' wife, Yvonne Atkinson Gates, a county commissioner, against a recall, including a lawsuit that court records show was on appeal before the state Supreme Court.
A recent search found no statement in court records that Judge Gates disclosed the relationship or similar relationships in two other cases involving his wife and the Ellis law firm.
Within two weeks, he denied the motion to disqualify Saitta, declaring that she "is not biased or prejudiced concerning any party."
By now, Saitta had come under attack for refusing to let anyone examine paperwork supporting the first bill submitted by Swarts and his lawyers: $524,680 in fees from June 29, 1999, to May 30, 2000.
"Unconscionable ... exorbitant ... outrageously excessive," said lawyers for McGhan and one of the stockholder groups. Attorney Matthew Callister, who represented a second group of stockholders, said in a motion that if Saitta did not deny Swarts' fee or require him to account for its size, then "a great injustice will occur in this case."
Nonetheless, Saitta approved Swarts' request for $524,680, as well as a second request, this one for fees totaling $662,411 for him and his attorneys covering June 2000 through September 2001, court records show.
Attorney Daniel J. McAuliffe, representing McGhan and other defendants, complained in a motion that Swarts had filed the second request 13 months late, "in violation of this court's order."
In yet another motion, Swarts asked that fees be doubled for his attorneys through 2001 and requested 18% interest on unpaid fees since his appointment in 1999.
McGhan's attorneys protested that Swarts' requests "provide for the looting of [the company] to line the pockets of various and numerous counsel -- all with no accountability." The request for 18% interest, they said, was "astonishing.... Even Visa and MasterCard charge less."
Nonetheless, Saitta approved both of those requests as well.
In 2002, according to a report McGhan entered into court records, she approved $588,000 for Swarts and $630,000 for his lawyers.
When she was asked about the fees during her interview, Saitta said: "I handle 2,400 cases a year. You're asking me for details on one case. I don't have time to go back and look up every case."
Neither Swarts nor Judge Gates responded to written questions.
In 2002, an election year, Saitta announced that she would seek another term on the bench. Nevada judges seeking reelection historically try to scare off potential opponents by raising large war chests quickly. By March, however, Saitta had raised less than $5,000, campaign records show.
She got help from J. Randall Jones, one of Swarts' attorneys in the ongoing Medical Device Alliance case.
With major decisions in the case still pending, Jones, of Harrison, Kemp & Jones, held a fundraiser for her. The fundraiser was set for May 2 at Jones' home in Las Vegas. Invitations said, "Minimum Suggested Contribution: $500." A cohost was Mark James, an attorney for Medical Device Alliance shareholders. James had played a key role in persuading Saitta to appoint Swarts.