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Best of Howard Stutz

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Howard Stutz
 

Juror dismissed from Sands trial

19 May 2008

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- (PRESS RELEASE) -- A monthlong civil trial that has seen testimony from the world's 12th richest man and several current and former Macau government officials took another twist this week: A juror was dismissed for calling an attorney in the case an "asshole."

The outburst came late Thursday afternoon in Clark County District Court during testimony in a lawsuit brought by Hong Kong businessman Richard Suen against Las Vegas Sands Corp. Suen believes he is owed millions of dollars by the casino operator for helping the company obtain a Macau gaming license.

The trial began April 17 and attorneys believe the case could be in the jury's hands by next week.

But testimony was halted while an expert witness for Suen testified about what the plaintiff could be owed financially for his efforts in the Macau licensing matter.

Las Vegas Sands attorney Rusty Hardin was cross-examining Walter Bratic, a Houston-based expert on accounting, financial and economic issues, when a juror in the back row of the jury box, Fred Reinhardt of Henderson, muttered a comment heard by District Judge Michelle Leavitt.

Bratic's testimony was halted, the jury was removed except for Reinhardt, and the juror was questioned by Leavitt. Reinhardt told Leavitt he didn't realize he had said the remark out loud, although he admitted using the word, "asshole," referring to Hardin. Reinhardt told the judge he thought Hardin was repeatedly asking the same question.

"(He's) belaboring the same question over and over we've heard a hundred times," Reinhardt said.

Suen's lead attorney, John O'Malley, said he did not hear the remark, but other attorneys said they did.

Leavitt told Reinhardt she had to dismiss him from jury service.

"I've never had this happen, so I have to be extraordinarily concerned that because of your frustration level, that you might not be fair and impartial to the defendants," Leavitt said. "Obviously, you have an opinion of defense counsel, and it's not flattering."

The trial proceeded Friday morning with the 10 remaining jurors, two of whom will end up as alternates. Reinhardt, who told the judge he thought he could still be a fair and impartial juror, refused comment Friday when contacted by the Review-Journal.

O'Malley said he planned to rest his case Friday after Bratic's testimony was completed. Hardin expects to put on a couple witnesses next week before resting his case.

Suen, during his four days on the witness stand, held to his contention that a series of July 2001 meetings he arranged in Beijing between leadership of the Chinese government and Las Vegas Sands officials played a major role in the company winning a licensing bid in February 2002, which it shared at the time with Hong Kong-based Galaxy Entertainment.

In testimony, it was revealed that Las Vegas Sands and Galaxy couldn't reach an operating agreement. Instead of eliminating both companies, a Macau government official told jurors he came up with the idea to split the concession and award both companies gaming licenses.

Suen, who filed his lawsuit in 2004, said his relationships were important in helping Las Vegas Sands gain the licensing nod. As such, he believes he earned a multimillion-dollar payment. Company executives testified they were willing to pay Suen for his time and effort during the process, but nothing close the millions he is seeking.

The lawsuit centers around a two-year period between 2001 and 2002 when Macau, a former Portuguese colony which became of special administrative region of China in 2000, had decided to liberalize casino gaming. Controversial Hong Kong billionaire Stanley Ho had held a 40-year monopoly on gaming in the enclave and the Macau government decided to offer three gaming licenses in an effort to grow the industry.

Suen, at the request of the brother of Las Vegas Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson, offered his services to help the company win a Macau gaming license.

Adelson, considered the world's 12th richest person by Forbes, was the trial's first witness and claimed Suen's efforts didn't help the company. He spent a little more than a day testifying in the trial. Las Vegas Sands President Bill Weidner followed Adelson and spent parts of six days testifying in the case.

Weidner told jurors Las Vegas Sands made a compelling presentation to the eight-person Macau Tender Commission, which was charged with selecting the three gaming concession winners. That led to a last-minute pairing with Galaxy at the request of Edmund Ho, the chief executive of Macau, the enclave's top government official. Las Vegas Sands had been partnered with a group that included a Taiwanese bank, which was objectionable to the commission.

Former Tender Commission member Eric Ho, no relation to ether Stanley Ho or Edmund Ho, testified last week that Las Vegas Sands never would have qualified for a concession if it had remained with its original partnership. Eric Ho, who now works for Las Vegas Sands' gaming operations in Macau, also said the company was never technically an applicant in its own right. He said neither Galaxy nor Las Vegas Sands would have received a license if they had not been paired.

Jorge Oliveira, commissioner for legal affairs for the Macau Gaming Commission and a member of the Tender Commission, testified he came up with the idea of Galaxy and Las Vegas Sands sharing the license. He told jurors the concept was approved by Edmund Ho.

The Tender Commission asked Arthur Andersen, at the time one of the top five accounting firms in the United States, to rank the 18 qualified bidders by way of gaming experience. According to a confidential report entered into evidence, MGM Mirage, a partnership between the Mandalay Resort Group and Park Place Entertainment and Wynn Resorts Ltd. were the top three bidders. The Galaxy-Las Vegas Sands bid was ranked fifth by Arthur Andersen, behind Stanley Ho's bid.

However, the commission integrated the Arthur Andersen report with its own list of criteria, which awarded additional bonus points for gaming experience and the scope of each company's proposed project.

The Tender Commission then awarded concessions to Wynn, Stanley Ho -- who was operating 11 casinos in Macau under his monopoly -- and the Galaxy-Las Vegas Sands partnership.