Thursday, Nov. 4, 1999 | 11:02 a.m.
CARSON CITY -- Donald J. Mello, former administrator of the Nevada Court System, has filed a federal suit saying he's been blackballed from getting a job because of slanderous statements about him by state workers.
Mello asks for at least $450,000 plus punitive damages, claiming he has been branded with a "stigma" because of false allegations.
Named as defendants are the state, former Acting Court Administrator Georgia Rohrs, Legislative Auditor Gary Crews and Deputy Auditor Rick Neil. Rohrs, Crews and Neil said they have not been served with the suit so they are withholding comment.
But Crews said he stands behind an audit of the Nevada Supreme Court and the Administrative Office of the Court in which numerous discrepancies were found. "We went through a rigorous process," Crews said. "The audit speaks for itself."
Mello served as director of the administrative office of the court from 1987 until January 1997. There were conflicting stories about why he departed -- he said he resigned, others said he was fired.
Rohrs replaced Mello on an acting basis. The suit claims there was an agreement between Mello and then Chief Justice Miriam Shearing that all inquiries about his departure would be directed to Mello. But it didn't work out that way.
Mello, who lives in Reno, contends Rohrs consistently made false statements about him to the Legislature regarding the condition of the accounting and other records in the agency. He said she wrongfully accused him of using money to buy expensive cherry wood furniture for use of the District Court in Carson City. The suit said Rohrs made false statements to the Legislature to get $244,000 for a needs assessment of the court system when the money wasn't needed.
The suit said she wrongfully accused Mello of theft, "thus leading to an improper criminal investigation of him."
Mello claimed Crews and his legislative audit crew "bore much animosity for Mr. Mello," because he didn't cooperate in an audit of the court. He said the audit of his office charged there were irregularities, which were beyond the scope of the normal financial examination.
The auditors, Mello said, falsely blamed him for an inadequate system of internal controls, for not complying with rules on annual fixed assets inventories and for "committing improper acts when making purchases with his own funds."
In his suit Mello quotes Justices Shearing and Bob Rose making critical remarks about him to newspaper reporters. He quotes Shearing as saying that Mello was "massaging the books," and Rose as saying Mello was "playing fast and loose with taxpayer money."
Mello does not name Shearing and Rose or the newspapers as defendants.
The suit said, "By providing false information to various governmental agencies, to private organizations and to newspapers, Mr. Mello was effectively blackballed from all employment or consulting work related thereto."
Mello is the son of former state Sen. Don Mello of Sparks.