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July 28, 2014

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Judge green-lights suit against Gibbons

Exhibit photos in Mazzeo case

Chrissy Mazzeo Launch slideshow »

Chief U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt is refusing to toss out Chrissy Mazzeo’s civil rights lawsuit.

In a 27-page decision this week, Hunt dismissed some of Mazzeo’s claims, but allowed her to move forward with the suit. The former cocktail waitress alleges that several people conspired with Jim Gibbons on a cover-up after his encounter with Mazzeo outside a Las Vegas restaurant less than a month before his gubernatorial election.

“The big thing is we’re still in federal court, where the case belongs,” said Robert Kossack, her attorney. “From my reading of the decision, we’re going to be able to pursue all of the discovery and all of the damages she suffered.”

That pretrial “discovery” involves taking depositions from Gibbons and the other defendants. Those other defendants include political strategist Sig Rogich, who was with Gibbons at McCormick & Schmick’s on Oct. 13, 2006, the night of the encounter, and former Sheriff Bill Young, who oversaw the criminal investigation that cleared Gibbons of charges of assaulting Mazzeo. At the time, Rogich was a top political adviser to both the governor and Young. Rogich has since had a falling out with Gibbons.

Hunt gave Mazzeo the green light to continue pursuing her claim that the defendants retaliated against her, in violation of her First Amendment rights, for pressing criminal charges against Gibbons.

“Mazzeo has adequately alleged that her filing a police report was the ... cause of defendants’ concerted action to destroy her reputation and thus chill her from future speech,” Hunt wrote.

Attorneys for Gibbons and the other defendants had asked Hunt to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that it failed to back up the allegations with any facts.

But Hunt wasn’t ready to come to that conclusion.

He ruled that Young and Metro Police, another defendant in the suit, do not have “qualified immunity” for their actions.

“A reasonable officer would know that he was violating Mazzeo’s constitutional rights by using his investigation to cover up a crime,” Hunt wrote.

Gibbons’ attorney, Pat Lundvall, said she has “mixed feelings” about Hunt’s decision.

“It’s going to be costly to litigate, and the governor is not a man of great means,” she said. “On the other hand, it’s going to give an opportunity to the governor and the other defendants in the case to rid themselves of any residual taint from the allegations raised against them.”

Hunt allowed Kossack to file a second amended complaint in the case, but ordered him to tone down some of the language, saying his current complaint “includes inappropriate commentary and dramatic flourishes.”

“In the court’s view, a significant portion of the complaint appears calculated to cast the defendants in a derogatory light and is full of wholly irrelevant material,” Hunt said.

Hunt ordered Kossack to remove phrases such as “like a well-deserved public slap in the face,” and “faster than a pancake flipped by a short-order cook.”

•••

Speaking of dramatic flourishes, most new judges get sworn in at the courthouse.

Las Vegas attorney Joseph Sciscento took his oath Tuesday at a different courthouse — the Courthouse Bar & Grill, that is.

Drinks were flowing as his friend, District Judge Doug Smith, administered the oath in front of a small gathering of lawyers and judges at the popular tavern across the street from the Regional Justice Center.

The place has a special meaning for Sciscento, who for years has been part of a group of defense lawyers who gather there each morning after court for coffee to compare cases.

One of the morning regulars, attorney Thomas Pitaro, organized the unusual swearing-in. Pitaro and Sciscento share office space seven floors above the establishment.

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