Attorney: Wynn wields power over courts
Supreme Court denies charges as Mirage appeals large judgment
By Cy Ryan
SUN CAPITAL BUREAU
CARSON CITY — A Las Vegas attorney told the Nevada Supreme Court Wednesday that Steve Wynn “is more powerful than the governor” and that he “makes kings and breaks kings.”
Eckley Keach said every lawyer he talks to says it’s impossible for a judge to rule against Wynn, the former chairman and chief executive of Mirage Resorts Inc.
“People are afraid of him,” he said.
But Justice Bill Maupin said Wynn “does not govern the will of this court.”
The dialogue took place during the Supreme Court’s hearing of an appeal by Mirage Resorts of a lower court’s award of $6.1 million to the attorney’s client, who claims he was robbed and injured at the Mirage in 1992.
At the beginning of the highly charged hearing, Chief Justice Bob Rose disclosed that every justice had received campaign contributions from the Mirage but said it does not disqualify them from sitting on the case. He said prior rulings by the court allow them to preside without a conflict of interest.
The case involves Joseph Canterino, a New York dockworker who says he was beaten and robbed of $100,000 in cash by two men at the Mirage on April 7, 1992. He says he suffered permanent physical and mental disabilities from the beating.
A District Court jury in Las Vegas in 1997 awarded Canterino $6.1 million against the Mirage on grounds it was negligent in providing security. District Judge Stephen Huffaker, who presided at the trial, initially denied the motion of the Mirage for a new trial.
But then he proposed a conditional order — Canterino would take a reduced $1.5 million judgment from the Mirage or he would grant a new trial for the Mirage. Canterino refused the offer and a new trial was ordered. Canterino appealed.
Rose had to warn Keach that he was on “very thin ice” with his remarks about Wynn. The judge said Keach was talking “outside the record” and that his statements about Wynn were inadmissible.
Keach complained, however, that Huffaker never disclosed at trial that his son received an $11,000 scholarship from the Mirage, that the son had worked summers at the Mirage and at Wynn’s Shadow Creek Golf Course, that Huffaker had played at the private golf course and that the son was to go to work for the law firm that represented the Mirage.
Justice Nancy Becker told Keach that he should address the major issue in the case — the deliberation of the jury. The jury voted 6-2 to hold the Mirage liable. The jury then asked Huffaker if the two dissenting members could continue to be included when the jury decided the monetary damages.
Huffaker, without getting any advice from opposing lawyers, ruled the dissenters could not take part in deciding the money damages.
Keach said he should have been consulted but he agreed with the Huffaker ruling.
But Steve Morris, the Mirage attorney, said Huffaker erred in making that decision. There is no Nevada case that Huffaker could have cited as a precedent, Morris said.
“If there is a right to a trial by jury, there is a right to trial by jury on all issues,” Morris said.
Morris suggested that the two dissenting jurors might have persuaded the others to come up with a reduced judgment.
Morris also complained about the “street mean” atmosphere at the trial. He suggested that Keach displayed “disorderly conduct” in calling the judge a crook and saying a witness and the Mirage attorney lied.
Rose said, however, that the attorneys for Mirage objected only twice to these remarks. But Morris said the cumulative impact of these statements weighed on the jury.
Keach said he only called a witness a liar, when it was shown he had failed to tell the truth.