Behind the Scenes in Las Vegas
By Clark Neily
Litigating for liberty takes long-term commitment. Our Las Vegas litigation on behalf of independent limousine operators is just one case in point. It took nearly three years of work by three-plus staff attorneys and many thousands of dollars in expenses, but in the end, the court found that the Nevada Transportation Services Authority (TSA), the agency responsible for issuing licenses to operate a limousine in the state, had failed to properly limit the involvement of local limousine companies in that process, thereby enabling those companies to keep new companies out of the market and violating the constitutional rights of IJ’s clients.
Between the TSA’s “dog-ate-my-homework” litigation style and the big limo companies’ arrogance, IJ certainly had its hands full. To understand why it took so long to vindicate our clients’ rights, let us give you an inside look at limo litigation Las Vegas style.
The TSA was represented by the Nevada Attorney General’s office, which doggedly refused to produce relevant documents and witnesses and whose perpetual foot-dragging resulted in repeated continuances of the trial date. For example, when we sought to depose TSA representatives, the attorney general’s lawyers refused. We went to court and got the depositions. Next, the AG lawyers tried to ambush us with a summary judgment motion before allowing us to conduct those depositions, arguing (ludicrously) that there were “no fact issues” in this case. Another court hearing, another frivolous argument shot to pieces. Then, confronted with a June 2000 trial date for which they were totally unprepared, the lawyers for the Attorney General resorted to gamesmanship. After scheduling depositions for over a dozen potential witnesses during a two-week period in May, the AG lawyers waited until we had already flown out to Vegas for the marathon session, then canceled the depositions without explanation. As we soon found out, the AG lawyers were simply running out the clock while waiting for the cavalry to arrive.
The cavalry came in the form of three big limo companies who, after sitting on the sidelines for more than two years, finally decided it was time to get in the game. After intervening in the lawsuit on the side of the TSA, the big limo lawyers soon inundated us with a raft of letters falsely accusing us of everything from failing to comply with local rules to not being properly admitted to appear in the case. These same lawyers then trampled our clients’ First Amendment rights by improperly seeking to obtain the membership list for our clients’ organization, the Independent Limousine Owners and Operators Association, and attempting to have IJ attorneys sanctioned for writing op-ed pieces about the case in the local press. The big limo lawyers’ contempt for independent operators was palpable, and it continued right up to the closing arguments, during which they ridiculed our clients for having the presumption to fight for their right to earn an honest living.
Over the years, the big limo companies perfected the art of abusing the regulatory process to keep out hungry newcomers like Rich Lowre, John West, Bil Clutter, Ed Wheeler and Rey Vinole. Now that the door to competition is open, those same companies may soon wish they had instead perfected the art of good customer service.
Clark Neily is a staff attorney with the Institute for Justice.