Precious flower needs legal help

Flamboyant Nevada casino figure Steve Wynn has again turned to the Nevada Legislature to pass some legislation tailored to his personal needs.

In 1997, Wynn ordered up a new state law giving him a tax break on his collection of paintings by Van Gogh, Renoir, Cézanne, Matisse and others. After receiving the break, he then charged Nevadans and tourists to see the collection. Nevada Journal writer Ralph Heller, who wore a hearing aid, wrote, “As Nevadans ponder Steve Wynn's breathtaking art collection they might well wonder what such a sensitive artist [as Van Gogh] would think of Nevada's practice of granting tax breaks to buy art while continuing to tax the deaf.”

When he wanted a federally protected species, dolphins, in the pools of his Mirage casino, state politicians closed around him to protect him from federal or other interference. In subsequent years, 14 dolphins died at the Mirage, prompting an animal rights group to try to shut down the dolphin “habitat” at the casino.

Now Wynn wants a Nevada law to make it easier for him to sue his critics, and state lawmakers so far are cranking one out. Nevada's working poor never get such vigorous service from their legislators.

Two years ago, the Nevada Legislature enacted a law to discourage frivolous lawsuits that were intended to prevent expression of opinion and chill commentary. It is particularly helpful to defendants under attack by deep-pocketed plaintiffs who can keep a suit going for years. Wynn's operatives—who seem to include members of the legislature—are now busily trying to gut that new law with Senate Bill 444. The measure reduces time that a target of a lawsuit can respond from 60 to 20 days while easing the process for the plaintiff.

No single legislator was brave enough to sponsor the proposed bill, so it was introduced by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Bloomberg News reported last week that Wynn and his companies have contributed a whopping $1.6 million to Nevada politicians—including $40,500 to the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee chair Greg Brower argues that the existing law is out of step with other states.

But attorney Marc Randazza—who helped draft the 2013 law—said the bill “drops Nevada from the gold standard to one that makes its protections lower than any other state in the union.”

Wynn has a previous record of going after his critics. When Lyle Stuart's Barricade Books published a 2011 biography of Wynn written by Las Vegas journalist John L. Smith (who testified against 444), Wynn sued not over the content of the book but over a single sentence in a Barricade catalog that suggested a link between Wynn and a crime family—and convinced a jury to award $3.1 million. The verdict was overturned on appeal, but by then Stuart had been forced to declare bankruptcy. The Wynn lawsuit also damaged an associated book publisher, Blue Moon Books, a subsidiary of Barricade that was similarly driven into bankruptcy when Barricade could no longer service it. Blue Moon was owned by Barney Rosset, a renowned fighter against censorship who brought titles like Tropic of Cancer, Lady Chatterly's Lover, and works of Samuel Becket, Che Guevara, Jean Paul Sartre and Malcolm X into print in the United States, sometimes after court fights with the U.S. government.

Rosset died in 2012, Stuart in 2010. Columbia University—where Stuart's papers are housed—says the Wynn file is the largest in Stuart's legal papers.