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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

A judge in their pocket
"Mr. Rizzolo has a good name in the community."

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
August 15, 2005

Untimely court order causes speculation

In 2001, Clark County District Court Judge Nancy M. Siatta sanctioned Buffalo Jim Barrier $4,500 after witnesses mysteriously failed to show up, and his former attorney was late for trial in a civil racketeering lawsuit he brought against embattled Crazy Horse strip club owner Rick Rizzolo. Judge Saitta then summarily dismissed Barrier's suit, but not before stating on the record: "Mr. Rizzolo has a good name in the community."

Four years later, Rizzolo is currently awaiting federal indictment for racketeering, tax evasion, and political corruption. In an apparent effort to divest himself of his personal fortune before the indictment hits, last month Rizzolo divorced his wife of 27 years -- assigning her the bulk of his fortune including an amazing $83,333 per month in alimony.

Several months after dismissing the civil racketeering action, Judge Saitta was again "randomly selected" to rule on a motion for a gag order against Steve Miller, a motion brought by Rizzolo's lawyer Tony Sgro after I broke the story telling of the beating and crippling of Kirk Henry. Judge Saitta appeared poised to grant the motion until she noticed attorneys for the ACLU and Las Vegas Review-Journal, along with RJ Editor Thomas Mitchell take seats in the back of her courtroom. Subsequently, she reluctantly denied the gag order, and I continued writing.

The fact that Judge Nancy Saitta was presiding over five concurrent cases all involving Rick Rizzolo raised suspicion at a local weekly newspaper. An editorial entitled "Here comes the same judge" was published, and shortly thereafter Judge Saitta on May 29, 2002, suddenly reassigned four of her five Rizzolo cases to other randomly selected district court judges. However, Judge Saitta kept the most important case, the civil wrongful death action brought by the widow and children of Scott David Fau. Mr. Fau was found dead behind the Crazy Horse in 1995 after being beaten by club bouncers two hours earlier.

After eight years, two dismissals, and two postponements, coupled with the refusal of two District Attorneys to take criminal action, on January 13, 2003, following an abbreviated trial, Judge Saitta instructed jurors to not consider the delayed effect of blunt force trauma as the probable cause of Fau's death. Following her instructions to the letter, and after only two hours of deliberation, the jury ruled for the Crazy Horse.

Coincidentally, the current District Attorney, David Roger, after accepting and purportedly returning $50,000 in campaign contributions generated by Rizzolo, also refused to initiate criminal action after the September 21, 2001, beating and crippling of Henry, again forcing a family to take their case to civil court at great personal expense.

Judges are selected to preside over local cases in a purportedly random manner. As each case is presented to the court clerk, it is supposed to be given to the next judge in chronological order. There are 19 District Court judges. Unfortunately, its suspected that the court clerk sometimes sets aside special cases that certain judges desire, and waits until that judge's name is about to appear in numerical order, then pulls out the set-aside case to be assigned to that judge. In this way, its possible that all nationally televised trials including the Binion and Rudin cases were coincidentally assigned to Judge Joseph Bonaventure who loves the spotlight, and all cases involving Rizzolo were coincidentally assigned to Judge Saitta -- that's until the "Here comes the same judge" editorial in 2002, and her immediate recusals.

The Fau trial, Judge Saitta's final case involving Rick Rizzolo, finally went to the jury on January 13, 2003. From that date forward, all cases involving Rizzolo were assigned to other judges. But then something amazing happened. Last week, an out dated order signed by Judge Saitta suddenly surfaced in an up-until-then obscure Justice Court case involving Rizzolo.

Judge Siatta had signed the order on September 28, 2004, twenty months after she was officially off Rizzolo's cases.

Last Wednesday, garage owner Barrier in a continuing battle with Rizzolo, his next door neighbor and landlord, appeared in Clark County Justice Court to force Rizzolo to pay a previous $281 judgment for illegally towing cars waiting to be repaired. In all past court actions including this one, Barrier had won judgments requiring Rizzolo to reimburse him for the cost of towing and impound. However Rizzolo opted not to pay, and all such judgments were appealed by Rizzolo's attorneys. Rizzolo apparently prefers to pay his attorneys thousands of dollars in legal fees, than to pay hundreds of dollars in towing fees. Rizzolo has lost all his appeals involving towing, so far, while his attorneys profit.

Possibly, Rizzolo is using his fetish for towing Barrier's client's cars as a method to distract himself from the years in prison he faces in the event the Federal Prosecutor succeeds in proving his racketeering and tax evasion charges?

Nonetheless, on Wednesday, Justice of the Peace Bill Jansen again ruled for Barrier ordering the $281 judgment be paid immediately, but not until Rizzolo's attorneys presented a surprise court order signed by none other than Judge Saitta
over two years after she removed herself from the case -- an order that  Rizzolo's attorneys tried to use to convince Judge Jansen to dismiss Barrier's judgment and allow their client to continue his obsession with towing Barrier's customer's cars.

When presented with the new order, Judge Jansen said, "We already have an order here," referring to Judge Gonzalez' order of September 23.

Keep in mind that Judge Saitta removed herself from all cases involving Barrier on May 29, 2002, and her final case involving Rizzolo, the Fau case, was over in 2003. There was no legal reason why Judge Saitta was still issuing orders twenty months after leaving the case, and after it was reassigned to a new judge three years eariler.

Judge Nancy M. Saitta

Judge Saitta's surprise order stated: "Defendant, JAMES C. BARRIER'S Motion for Preliminary Injunction having come before this honorable Court this 25th day of August 2004;.. Defendant present and represented by counsel..."

However, Barrier was the Plaintiff, not the "Defendant," and he, his attorneys, and his witnesses were not "present" in Judge Saitta's courtroom for any reason on August 25! They were down the hall in Judge Gonzalez' court for the majority of the day.

That's when I started smelling a rat.

Judge Gonzalez wrote her order in objective, unbiased language correctly listing Barrier as the "Plaintiff."

In her order, Judge Gonzalez stated: "THIS MATTER came before this Court on August 25, 2004, at 9:30 a.m. on the 'Application for Temporary Restraining Order' filed by the Plaintiff, JIM BARRIER dba ALLSTATE AUTO AND MARINE. The Plaintiff was represented by his attorney, GUS W. FLANGAS, ESQ. of the FLANGAS McMILLAN LAW GROUP. The Defendants, RICRIZ LLC and The Power Company, Inc. dba CRAZY HORSE TWO was represented by its attorney JON W. NORHEIM, ESQ. of PATTI & SGRO." 

Judge Gonzalez went on to specify that an Injunction was not warranted, but that the court would interpret the lease agreement as to allow Barrier to park seven customer's cars overnight without the threat of towing. Barrier was very pleased by the order, however, Rizzolo defied the order and continued his towing practice.

But in contrast to Judge Gonzalez' order, Saitta's "order" calling Barrier the "Defendant" stated: "Defendant, JAMES C. BARRIER'S Motion for Preliminary Injunction having come before this honorable Court this 25th day of August 2004; Plaintiffs present and represented by counsel, JON W. NORHEIM, ESQ. and DEAN R. PATTI, ESQ. and the law firm PATTI & SGRO, Defendant present and represented by counsel, GUS W. FLANGAS, ESQ. and the law firm of FLANGAS McMILLIAN LAW GROUP, the court having read the papers and pleadings on file, having heard the testimony of witnesses and having heard the argument of counsel, and good cause appearing therefore; IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Defendant's Motion for Preliminary Injunction in DENIED."  

The rest of Judge Saitta's "order" was written in a subjective manner friendly to Rizzolo including a statement calling the towed cars "junk." 
Judge Saitta's signature was signed in pen.

Two problems are glaringly apparent.

#1. Judge Gonzalez -- who is the only judge with jurisdiction over this case -- signed her order on September 23, 2004. Then, Judge Saitta signed her order -- without authority -- five days later on September 28 -- something acknowledged last week by Judge Jansen.

#2. In Judge Gonzalez' order, she states that only Jon W. Norheim, Esq. was present representing Rizzolo. But in Judge Saitta's order it states that Norheim's partner Dean R. Patti, Esq. was also present in her courtroom.

Somebody is not telling the truth. Also keep in mind that Patti & Sgro are well known political fund raisers, so much so that in 2003, they lent their plush offices to then-DA candidate David Roger to be used as his campaign headquarters. They covet their close relationships with the local judiciary, and visa versa.

The revelation of this information will undoubtedly be a giant slap in the face to Judge Saitta's colleagues, though she probably never imagined I would ever get my hands on her intriguing order, and make light of it.

But the biggest problem was that no such hearing took place in Judge Saitta's court on August 25, 2004. Her statement: "Defendant present and represented by counsel," was a bold faced lie bearing her signature!

Court Orders “R” Us

Why and how did Rizzolo's attorney get his hands on a helpful order bearing Judge Saitta's signature twenty months after Saitta removed herself from the case -- an order that favored his client -- an order that contradicted that of another district court judge? Last Thursday, I called Judge Saitta to inquire.

The judge's phone was answered by her law clerk, a man identifying himself as "Chris." After being thoroughly informed of the questions I intended to ask his boss, Chris responded, "Someone must have made an error. I'll give these questions to the judge, and we should get back to you soon."

An error? I waited two days for Judge Saitta's response, but none followed, and the mystery continues.

Courthouse observers inquire whether the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline, or possibly the FBI, should be notified of the anomaly? And in the meantime, Judge Saitta's silence is speaking louder than words.

                            Las Vegas Review-Journal

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