Sheriff Cover-Up Angle May Fall Apart in 9th
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The 9th Circuit seemed skeptical that a woman suing former Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons for battery can show that law enforcement staged a cover-up.
Chrissy Mazzeo said former Clark County Sheriff Bill Young had tried to silence her after she publicly accused Gibbons of threatening to rape her at a parking garage after a night of drinking at a local casino.
After Mazzeo dropped the charges, Young held a press conference where he quoted Mazzeo as saying the whole thing resulted from an alcohol-fueled misunderstanding.
Mazzeo later filed a civil suit against Gibbons for battery and false imprisonment, also naming Young and Gibbons' political adviser Sigmund Rogich.
Young sought relief from the 9th Circuit after U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt refused to grant him summary judgment.
At a hearing Wednesday, Mazzeo's attorney, Robert Kossack, quipped: "I think this case could also have been entitled Chrissy Mazzeo versus the three most powerful people in the state of Nevada."
The judges pressed Kossack to offer any evidence that Young was involved in the Gibbons investigation, or altered security video footage to refute Mazzeo's allegations.
Kossack claimed Young was prejudiced against Mazzeo because of his high-level position and close friendship with Gibbons, who was running for re-election at the time of the incident.
Judge Mary Murguia asked, "Assuming you have evidence that the security footage was doctored, what evidence links this to Sheriff Young?"
Kossack admitted nothing could tie Young to the investigation directly.
"I can't give you a direct connection to the sheriff," he said. "I can give you a direct connection to the investigating officers. They wouldn't have been assigned to this kind of case, they admitted."
The judges grilled Young's attorney, Walt Cannon, on his bid for immunity.
"Don't we have to assume the facts alleged in the complaint, taken with the judge's decision that he can't enter judgment, don't we have to accept that as true?" Judge Michael Daly Hawkins asked. "The plaintiffs are going tell us the sheriff made these statements to lessen the impact on his friend Jim Gibbons, to intimidate the plaintiff from making her complaint and convince the public there was nothing to this."
Cannon replied: "The statements he made were factually accurate."
"What he said was 'I personally endorse Jim Gibbons,'" he added. "He didn't say nothing happened here. He said she filed this, she withdrew this, and that's what she said, and if she comes forward we'll do a full investigation. But she withdrew the complaint."
He went on: "Does Bill Young lose his right to stand up and say what he is just because he happens to be the sheriff of Clark County? I agree with you that he's ultimately responsible but he was not directly involved in the investigation."
Hawkins also seemed disturbed by the fact that Young, who was out of town, returned a call from Rogich right after he was informed of the incident. Hawkins noted that Rogich had also served as Young's campaign adviser.
But Cannon urged the panel to look past Young's ties to Gibbons and Rogich.
"You have to look at the what Bill Young did," he said. "It's very clear. Judge Hunt didn't even talk about the missing tapes and Young's connection to it. There's nothing he did except exercise his first amendment rights. There's no constitutional violation. On qualified immunity the first prong is a constitutional violation and there isn't one here."