LAS VEGAS (AP) — A Nevada judge has upheld an arbitrator’s finding in an ongoing legal battle over one of the few remaining U.S. newspaper joint-operating agreements, ruling that the dominant Las Vegas Review-Journal has to submit to an audit and pay profits and expenses that its crosstown rival Las Vegas Sun claims have been improperly deducted in recent years.
Clark County District Court Judge Timothy Williams acknowledged during a Wednesday hearing that, with appeals expected and a separate federal lawsuit pending, his decision won’t settle an increasingly bitter fight over an operations pact entered in 1989 with an end date of 2040.
The judge put a hold on the state breach-of-contract case to allow a separate federal antitrust and unfair trade practices action filed by the Sun against the Review-Journal to be heard. He allowed the arbitration finding to remain sealed.
Williams’ written decision did not specify a dollar amount at stake, and attorneys and executives on both sides declined to disclose the amount. It is expected to be in the millions of dollars.
“The court will not reassess and weigh the evidence that the arbitrator relied on to make his decision,” the judge wrote. “The arbitrator noted that while the Review-Journal has done just about everything possible to blunt, avoid, deter and postpone an audit … the arbitrator simply ordered that an audit be conducted and this decision is affirmed.”
Sun publisher and chief executive Brian Greenspun on Thursday called the ruling a victory in what he and Sun lawyers say is an attempt by the Review-Journal to kill the Sun.
“One of the ways they do that is through vexatious litigation,” Sun attorney James Pisanelli told Williams on Wednesday. “Another way they have done it … is to starve the Las Vegas Sun.”
Benjamin Lipman, Review-Journal legal counsel, focused on the stay that Williams put on the state case. Lipman denied Review-Journal owners want to eliminate the Sun.
“Nothing has been resolved,” he said. “The state court action is on hold. The federal case could have a significant effect. We’re not seeking to shut the Sun down. We’re saying they should stand on their own two feet.”
The Sun, formerly an afternoon daily, is printed and delivered as one section within the morning Review-Journal, which owns the printing presses. Their joint-operating agreement was amended in 2005 to require each newspaper to bear its own editorial costs and the Review-Journal to share an agreed-upon percentage of profits with the Sun.
The Sun argued in 2016 that it was due at least $6 million amassed during 10 years of business with former Review-Journal owner Stephens Media. That matter was settled after arbitration for an amount that was not made public.
The Review-Journal is now owned by the family of billionaire casino mogul and conservative Republican political donor Sheldon Adelson. He’s the 86-year-old founder, chairman and chief executive of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns the Venetian and Palazzo resorts on the Las Vegas Strip and casino-hotels in the Chinese gambling enclave of Macau.
Adelson’s family bought the Review-Journal in December 2015 and owns it through a limited liability corporation called News + Media Capital Group. The Review-Journal was one of few U.S. newspapers to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016.
Greenspun’s newspaper characterizes itself as “a left-leaning editorial voice” and maintains a robust internet presence.
Pisanelli suggested in court Wednesday that the Review-Journal has violated federal antitrust law and declared that collecting the arbitrator’s judgment was a matter of survival for the Sun.
“The weaker party, the Las Vegas Sun … has been at the mercy of the good faith of the R-J for all these decades,” the attorney said. “It’s only since Sheldon Adelson bought the paper that the good faith came to an end and the new strategy of starvation came into play.”
Newspaper joint operating agreements stem from the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, passed by Congress to exempt newspapers from some antitrust laws to allow them to combine business functions while remaining editorially independent.
Las Vegas is one of a handful of U.S. cities with newspapers still operating under such an agreement, according to the News Media Alliance trade association. Others include York, Pennsylvania, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Detroit. A joint-operating agreement between the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News could expire next year.
Williams observed that the agreement in Las Vegas has not quieted what he termed “rolling disputes” between the two papers. The two sides have sued each other several times over the years in state and federal courts. The Review-Journal on Aug. 30 published a front-page editorial titled, “Why we want to stop printing the Sun.”
It called the joint-operating agreement a “relic” and argued the Sun doesn’t meet contractual obligations to produce a “high-quality metropolitan print newspaper.”
The Sun in September filed the separate federal civil antitrust and unfair trade practices complaint.
Review-Journal attorney Randall Jones on Wednesday urged Williams to delay his decision, keep the arbitration findings sealed, and stop state court proceedings until the federal case is heard.
Hearings before U.S. District Judge Richard Boulware have not yet been scheduled.
“It is practically creating a quagmire,” Jones told Williams, “because we don’t know what the federal court is going to do.”
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A Clark County judge imposed a partial stay in a battle between Las Vegas’ two daily newspapers, citing serious concerns over whether a state court had jurisdiction in several matters also being litigated in federal courts.
Judge Timothy Williams issued the pause of one disputed matter, pending a ruling from the federal court over whether it will hear a case filed by the Las Vegas Sun against the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
In late September, the R-J announced its plans to try to dissolve the joint operating agreement under which the R-J and the Sun have operated since 1989 and which was amended in 2005. The R-J filed this action as a counterclaim to a pending state court action by the Sun accusing the R-J of changing its front page and diminishing the Sun’s presence on it in a manner not allowed under the contract.
When the R-J announced its plans, the Sun went to federal court and filed suit saying this effort and other R-J actions constituted an attempt to create an illegal monopoly in Clark County.
In Wednesday’s hearing, Williams expressed serious concerns — echoed by the Sun attorneys — about whether a state court has jurisdiction over antitrust issues raised by the R-J’s counterclaim, while reserving final judgment.
“I’m going to take a cautious approach,” Williams said at the end of a two-hour hearing. “I’m not going to rule for dismissal outright, but I’m going to stay this matter pending resolution to the Sun’s action in federal court.”
Williams stressed he wasn’t ruling that his court did not have jurisdiction in the matter, just that he wanted to see what happened in federal court. No date for hearing the case in federal court has been set.
“We have the utmost respect for the court, though we respectfully disagree with the decision,” said Benjamin Lipman, general counsel for the R-J. “It is a shame the Sun continues to waste the parties’ and court’s time and money in ongoing efforts to avoid its day of reckoning for failing to live up to the promises it made and continues to fight against allowing our justice system to rule on the Review-Journal’s claims.”
The Sun filed a lawsuit against Sheldon Adelson and the ownership group of the R-J in September in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, alleging Adelson is trying to stop the Sun from publishing in order to silence an alternative editorial voice in Las Vegas.
The goal, as alleged by the Sun, is for Adelson — a billionaire casino owner and megadonor to the Republican Party — to muffle his local media critics, monopolize the local newspaper industry and squelch dissent to his newspaper’s right-leaning editorial views.
In federal court, the Sun seeks to force the R-J to cease its “abusive, unlawful and anticompetitive practices,” and a judgment ordering the R-J’s owners to either divest themselves of the newspaper or to at least turn over the newspaper’s non-editorial business operations to an independent agency or trustee.
“Today was a very important day,” Sun attorney James Pisanelli said. “While the court reserved its ruling on whether to dismiss the R-J’s counterclaims, which are designed to put the Sun out of business, the court expressed serious concerns over whether it had subject matter jurisdiction over those claims due to the preemptive effect of the Newspaper Preservation Act (NPA) and federal antitrust laws.”
The JOA structure was created under the act, which was approved by Congress and signed into law in the 1970s. The legislation provides limited antitrust protection for newspapers to combine business functions while remaining editorially independent.
The Sun and the Review-Journal have several distinct matters before Williams that will remain in state court. He promised a pre-Thanksgiving ruling on one of them, whether to affirm an arbitration award that found the Adelson-owned R-J engaged in improper accounting practices that deprived the Sun of profit payments.
Sun lawyers have asked Williams to affirm most of what the arbitrator ruled. R-J attorneys have argued to keep the arbitrator’s findings out of public view.
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A dispute between two prominent Las Vegas marijuana business owners has reached the courts, with the proprietor of Essence dispensaries accusing a former owner with The Apothecary Shoppe of embarking on a jealous campaign of slander aimed to do him more than $1 million in damage.
Armen Yemenidjian, a former casino executive who’s affiliated with three dispensaries, won another eight dispensary licenses last year and is part of a company that was recently acquired for $290 million, filed a lawsuit in Clark County Nov. 4 against Dr. Nick Spirtos. Yemenidjian alleges that Spirtos has accused him of criminal activity to other people, including lobbyist and former Assembly Speaker John Oceguera during an encounter at Gov. Steve Sisolak’s inaugural ball.
“Spirtos, in concert with others, undertook a scheme to slander Mr. Yemenidjian, because he has proven to be one of the most successful businessmen in the legal cannabis business,” the complaint says. “Rather than own his failures, Spirtos has resorted to smearing and spreading lies against others to harm their existing and future business opportunities.”
Spirtos, a gynecologic oncologist, was formerly affiliated with The Apothecary Shoppe, which has one dispensary in Southern Nevada but fell short in its attempt to win three other licenses in 2018. Reached by phone on Friday, Spirtos said he was traveling overseas and referred questions to his lawyer, who did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment on Friday and Monday.
The suit alleges that Spirtos made about a dozen private phone calls to George Kelesis, a member of the Nevada Tax Commission, to discuss undoing the result of the licensing round. Spirtos and Kelesis attend the same Greek church and are godparents to each others’ children, the suit says, but Kelesis spearheaded criticism of the state’s licensing process as a commissioner without disclosing the relationship.
Yemenidjian accuses Spirtos of talking to Oceguera at Sisolak’s inaugural ball this year and accusing Yemenidjian of “outright corruption” and criminal activity. He also said Spirtos surreptitiously recorded a meeting with Nevada Department of Taxation officials as part of an attempt to dupe the state employees in a meeting they had set up to review Spirtos’ application scores with him.
“Spirtos also hoped and planned that his slander would interfere with the State of Nevada’s licensing process for recreational marijuana since he did not obtain a license,” the complaint says. “Spirtos and those acting in concert with him have simply decided that maintaining their own market share and delaying competition in the marketplace is preferable.”
Yemendijian’s lawyer, Todd Bice, said that in a deposition for one of the lawsuits challenging the licensing process, and then when personally confronted by Yemenidjian, Spirtos denied making such comments and said he didn’t have a factual basis for making such allegations.
Bice said that to “insinuate that they were only chosen because of some nefarious criminal activity is just outrageous” in light of Essence scoring highly in licensing proceedings in different years in Nevada, and also in jurisdictions in California with different scorers. Bice also said the allegations could get published and then would be brought up in licensing reviews going forward.
“He’s just got to fight back against this. He can’t allow that kind of stuff to stand. It will then be weaponized … against him in the future,” Bice said in an interview.
The suit is the latest stemming from a contentious round of marijuana business licensing, in which more than 400 applications were submitted and 61 licenses awarded to 17 different companies including Essence. Many dispensary owners who did not win have sued the state, including Spirtos’ former company, whose suit alleges the state engaged in “rampant illegality and corruption.”
Spirtos has been a vehement critic of the licensing process, testifying to the Tax Commission that he believes that levels of corruption similar to that in the Nixon White House took place. The suit brought by his former company also alleges that Yemenidjian offered a job to the state’s former top marijuana regulator, Jorge Pupo.
Bice said there was no job offer, just a “passing reference,” and that Yemenidjian’s conversations with Pupo have been “wildly mischaracterized.”
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LAS VEGAS (Nov. 1, 2019) – Founding partners James J. Pisanelli and Todd L. Bice, of the litigation firm Pisanelli Bice PLLC, announced today the firm earned seven Tier 1 rankings by U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” for 2020.
The firm’s top-level designations are in the areas of Bet-the-Company Litigation, Appellate Practice, Commercial Litigation, Construction Law, Litigation-Construction, Litigation – Mergers and Acquisitions, and Litigation – Real Estate.
Pisanelli Bice has a long history in the U.S. News – Best Lawyers® rankings, having consecutively earned recognition since 2011.
Pisanelli Bice was named to the top tier based on a comprehensive evaluation process that includes client and peer evaluations of the firm’s responsiveness, client needs assessment, integrity, competitiveness, civility and cost-effectiveness, as well as a review of additional information provided by law firms themselves as part of the submission and application process. To be eligible, firms must have at least one attorney in the current edition of Best Lawyers in America©, which is one of the oldest and most respected peer-review publications in the legal profession.
“We’re honored by this recognition from U.S. News and Best Lawyers,” Pisanelli said. “It’s very gratifying to have our firm’s approach and commitment as a full-service litigation firm recognized by the nation’s leading ranking services.”
Pisanelli Bice’s Tier 1 rankings will be featured in U.S. News & World Report’s Legal Issue this month. The rankings also are available at http://bestlawfirms.usnews.com.
About “Best Law Firms”
The U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms” rankings are based on a rigorous evaluation process that includes the collection of client and lawyer evaluations, peer reviews from leading attorneys in their field, and reviews of additional information provided by law firms as part of the formal submission process. To be eligible for a ranking, a law firm must have at least one lawyer who is included in Best Lawyers in America© in that particular practice area and metro. For more information on U.S. News – Best Lawyers® “Best Law Firms,” please visit http://bestlawfirms.usnews.com/.
RENO — Nevada’s attempt to force the federal government to remove half a metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium can move forward, a federal judge in Reno ruled Monday.
The nine-page decision from U.S. District Judge Miranda Du means Nevada will be allowed to file an amended lawsuit asking the court to require the U.S. Energy Department to remove the plutonium that was secretly shipped into the state last year.
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals shot down Nevada’s initial appeal because the complaint only asked to block the shipment of plutonium to Nevada and did not request that it be removed. When the state filed the first lawsuit against the Energy Department in 2018, it was not yet known that the nuclear material had already been shipped to the Nevada National Security Site, a federal facility located roughly 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The federal government did not disclose that information until this year.
A federal judge in South Carolina last year ordered the Energy Department to remove one metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. A half-ton was shipped to Nevada last fall, and the Energy Department announced in August that another half-ton had been shipped to either Texas or New Mexico.
In April, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., said she had struck a deal with Energy Secretary Rick Perry to remove the plutonium from Nevada starting in 2021, and that no additional plutonium would be sent to the Silver State.