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Corruption Chronicles

Federal Judge Who Awarded Friends Millions Is Cleared

The federal appellate court that oversees nine western states has dismissed a complaint against a Nevada federal judge who awarded nearly $5 million in judgments and fees to friends and business associates.

The San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the close relationships between Las Vegas federal Judge James Mahan and the financial beneficiaries of his rulings did not affect his impartiality.

Since being appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush in 2002, Judge Mahan’s decisions in more than a dozen cases have benefited his former law partner, his former judicial campaign treasurer or the treasurer’s son. In several cases the judge appointed his friends to be special masters of businesses embroiled in legal disputes. They got paid $250 an hour and a total of over $700,000.

Judge Mahon never disclosed that the recipients of the money are close associates or that he still has huge financial ties to some of them, including his former law partner with whom he still owns property and other business ventures. When a west-coast newspaper exposed the judge’s story earlier this year, a federal judge in Los Angeles asked the 9th Circuit Court to investigate since its jurisdiction includes Nevada and California.

Las Vegas courtrooms have for years been known as some of the most compromised in the nation because rulings are often based on personal relationships and financial benefit rather than the letter of the law. Many judges routinely rule in cases involving friends, former clients and business associates as well as in favor of lawyers who donate hefty sums to the judge’s campaign coffers.

Before dismissing the complaint against Judge Mahan, a special committee of the 9th Circuit Judicial Council interviewed dozens of witnesses and gathered more than 15 affidavits. The committee evidently concluded that the judge’s relationships “were not of the nature or extent alleged.”


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