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April 24, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: JUSTICE:

Harrah’s hires local gun to help in Watanabe case

Terrance K. Watanabe, 52, of Omaha, Neb., waits to make an appearance in court at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Watanabe, in a negotiated deal, posted $1.5 million and turned himself in for processing. According to prosecutors, the high-rolling philanthropist owes $14.7 million to Caesars Palace and the Rio, which are owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

Terrance K. Watanabe, 52, of Omaha, Neb., waits to make an appearance in court at the Regional Justice Center in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Watanabe, in a negotiated deal, posted $1.5 million and turned himself in for processing. According to prosecutors, the high-rolling philanthropist owes $14.7 million to Caesars Palace and the Rio, which are owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

Harrah’s Entertainment has brought in more high-priced legal talent in its battle with high roller Terrance K. Watanabe.

Harrah’s hired lawyers this year from the Chicago office of the national law firm Jenner & Block to help it sort out sensational allegations leveled by Watanabe that the company’s casinos supplied him with a steady flow of alcohol and drugs as he gambled away tens of millions of dollars. Watanabe contends he was kept in a constant state of intoxication for several months in late 2007.

Now, the world’s largest casino company has retained the high-profile Las Vegas law firm Gordon & Silver and its seasoned member Dominic Gentile to help it try to quash subpoenas seeking a wide range of company documents linked to Watanabe’s prolific play at its casinos.

The records are being sought by Watanabe’s own high-priced lawyers, David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, in their efforts to derail a criminal theft indictment alleging the Nebraska philanthropist failed to pay $14.7 million in markers at two Harrah’s properties, Caesars Palace and the Rio.

For Chesnoff, it means squaring off with his former mentor. Chesnoff started practicing law in Las Vegas here years ago in a firm run by Gentile.

Harrah’s contends Watanabe is trying to turn the tables on the company to deflect attention from the criminal charges against him. Officials say that gathering all of the requested documents would tie up company resources and cost it several hundred thousand dollars.

District Judge Donald Mosley is to hold a hearing on the motion to quash the subpoenas on Nov. 6.

•••

District Judge Elissa Cadish has caught the attention of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and is rumored to be on the shortlist of possible replacements for U.S. District Judge Brian Sandoval.

Reid’s office has been inquiring within the legal community about Cadish’s credentials. He’s said to be looking for a woman to fill the lifetime judicial seat.

Reid also has been considering others for the post, including veteran U.S. magistrates Peggy Leen in Las Vegas and Valerie Cooke in Reno.

Cadish, a Democrat who’s been on the District Court bench for only two years, attracted criticism recently for ordering the state attorney general’s office off the criminal case against Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki because of a conflict of interest — only to later remove herself from the case because of her own conflict.

In Cadish’s absence, the attorney general is back on the Krolicki case, but Krolicki’s lawyers are pondering whether to revisit the matter with the new judge.

•••

The district attorney’s office has undergone a surprising shake-up.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher Lalli has stepped down from the ranks of management and returned to his old job as a prosecutor in the high-profile major violators unit.

Lalli said he simply missed being a trial lawyer, a statement reinforced by District Attorney David Roger in a memo to the staff.

Roger told the staff that during Lalli’s 3 1/2 years in management, he “constantly expressed his desire to return to the courtroom and, once again, prosecute criminals.”

Lalli, who’s regarded at the courthouse as a potential successor to Roger, said he enjoys handling complex criminal cases.

His move back to the trenches, however, happened very fast and caused some whispering within the office. Roger sent the memo out Sept. 4, and by the end of the day Lalli had packed up his office, which was next to Roger’s on the third floor of the Regional Justice Center.

Veteran prosecutor Christopher Owens, the former chief of the major violators unit, has taken over Lalli’s duties as the assistant in charge of the district attorney’s criminal division. Owens, who helped Roger convict O.J. Simpson, has been with the district attorney’s office since 1981.

“Without question, Christopher enjoys the respect of everybody in the legal community,” Roger told his staff.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Pam Weckerly succeeds Owens at the helm of the major violators unit, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Marc DiGiacomo takes over Weckerly’s job as head of the homicide unit.

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