Developer and brothel owner Lance Gilman was to be in Storey County District Court Friday to face a contempt of court hearing.
He was instead in Florida. His attorney was in Las Vegas. Both appeared by video conference.
“It is our position that the court should still find Gilman in contempt for failure to comply with the court’s order,” attorney Luke Busby said of their failure to show up in person.
Busby is representing Sam Toll who filed a SLAPP-back lawsuit against Gilman after Gilman sued Toll for defamation.
Toll prevailed in the Nevada Supreme Court against Gilman in the defamation case, and Gilman owes Toll and Busby more than $200,000 in damages. Gilman is appealing that determination in the state court with his attorney Gus Flangas. The state court, however, recently admonished them for failure to comply with court orders.
The Friday hearing was for the SLAPP-back (strategic lawsuit against public participation) case, which is seeking punitive damages, “because Mr. Gilman filed the frivolous SLAPP case against my client to try and oppress his first amendment rights and free speech on an issue of public concern,” Busby argued.
Busby said about a dozen pleadings in the SLAPP-back case over seven months were not answered by Gilman and Flangas. The failure to respond prompted Friday’s contempt of court hearing.
“I believe it’s the case that Mr. Gilman has failed to comply also with the court’s order to show cause, directing him to appear today before this court to address this order to show cause as to why he should not be held in contempt of court,” Busby added. “The order was unambiguous. It required him to appear. There was no exception allowing telephonic appearance.”
Flangas said he notified the Storey County court of appearing remotely and said the judge’s office told him the hearing would be by phone or Zoom. Everyone was present except for Gilman and Flangas.
“I take full responsibility for what occurred in this matter,” Flangas said. “Mr. Gilman had nothing to do with the failures in this.”
Flangas said there was “a cacophony of errors” that led up to the situation, in addition to his contracting COVID-19.
“We got way behind,” he added. “It is totally, 100% me. My client should not be found in contempt. Any sanction should go to me and me alone.”
He said he would pay reasonable attorney fees but didn’t want Gilman held in contempt.
Busby disputed Flangas’ excuses.
“This was an intentional disregard of a known legal duty to respond not just to our interrogatories [but also] to a court order, and then, now, to … an order to show cause from the court,” he said. “What Mr. Flangas said is inconsistent with the facts.”
Busby said Gilman’s behavior is a consistent pattern. He cited other instances of Gilman defying court procedures, such as in his divorce.
“This is not a one-off odd circumstance. This is a pattern,” Busby said.
Judge James Wilson agreed with Busby but refrained from slapping Gilman with contempt.
“At this point, the default judgment, which is the most severe sanction that can be imposed is not warranted,” he said. “There’s been mishandling, if not outright wrongdoing. But [an] evidentiary hearing is going to be necessary for me to parse that out. We’re talking about a month delay before we can have the evidentiary hearing to resolve this issue.”
Wilson awarded attorney fees to Busby for the hearing. He also sanctioned Flangas and ordered him to respond to court filings. He left open the possibility Gilman could still be cited for contempt, something Busby said he would request.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.