Appeals court dismisses complaint against judge
that despite The Times' allegations of favoritism in judgments and fees, the
jurist's ties didn't affect his impartiality.
LAS VEGAS -- The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals has dismissed a complaint against a federal judge who awarded more than
$4.8 million in judgments and fees to people with whom he had long-standing
political and business ties.
U.S. District Judge James C. Mahan of Las
Vegas, who was featured in a 2006 Los Angeles Times investigation into the
Nevada judiciary, was cleared of allegations that he had personal connections
with those involved in cases he heard.
Many of those relationships "were
not of the nature or extent alleged" and didn't affect the judge's impartiality,
the 9th Circuit Judicial Council said.
A special committee that
interviewed more than 30 witnesses, got 16 affidavits and reviewed media
coverage and court transcripts unanimously recommended that the complaint be
Mahan, appointed to the federal bench in 2002, declined to
comment. He told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in October that he was "very
heartened" by the findings. "All a judge has is his integrity," Mahan said.
"This whole thing was an attack on my integrity, and frankly, I felt like it was
an attack on the Nevada judiciary."
The court launched its investigation
after The Times' series detailed how Mahan's decisions in more than a dozen
cases had benefited his former law partner, his former judicial campaign
treasurer or the former treasurer's son.
On several occasions, the judge
appointed George Swarts, his former treasurer, or Swarts' son to be a special
master or receiver of businesses embroiled in legal disputes. The men were paid
up to $250 an hour.
Swarts -- who was assigned to either investigate the
business disputes or run the companies until they were settled -- often hired
Frank A. Ellis III, Mahan's former law partner, as his attorney. Rulings Mahan
made from the bench instructed various parties to pay Swarts and Ellis a total
of more than $700,000.
Mahan denied any wrongdoing in not disclosing his
relationships with the men and said he appointed receivers based on their
Mahan was one of several current and former Nevada judges
featured in The Times' report, which has prompted the state to reexamine how its
judges are selected.
After the series, U.S. District Judge Terry J.
Hatter Jr. of Los Angeles urged an investigation by the 9th Circuit., which
oversees nine Western states including Nevada and California. Hatter could not
be reached for comment.