Court upholds reporter’s right to quiz chauffeur about Adelson’s foul mouth

sheldon-adelson-chauffeur-foul-mouth-testimonyIf you’ve ever heard Sheldon Adelson curse like a sailor, Kate O’Keeffe wants to hear from you.

Last week, the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling that said Wall Street Journal scribe O’Keeffe was allowed to question Kwame Luangisa, who acted as chauffeur to the Las Vegas Sands chairman between 2007 and 2011.

In 2013, Adelson sued O’Keeffe for libel after she referred to the casino operator as a “scrappy, foul-mouthed billionaire” in an article detailing Adelson’s legal battle with Steve Jacobs, the former CEO of Sands China, who filed a wrongful termination suit after being unceremoniously kicked to the curb in 2010.

Adelson suspected that some of the material in O’Keeffe’s article had been provided by Jacobs, leading him to ask a court to force O’Keeffe to hand over her phone and email records. The New York State Supreme Court eventually ruled that Adelson wasn’t entitled to rummage through O’Keeffe’s sock drawers.

O’Keeffe’s defense is built around her belief that the foul-mouthed claim is “true in substance and fact” so she went looking for likely suspects who had ample opportunity to hear Adelson’s allegedly abrasive tongue. Enter Luangisa, who’d sued Adelson in 2011 for what Luangisa claimed was over $100k in unpaid overtime.

Adelson’s suit against O’Keeffe was filed in Hong Kong, which has strict discovery rules, so O’Keefe subpoenaed Adelson’s driver in New York. On April 1, US District Judge Deborah Batts granted O’Keeffe’s request, which Adelson’s attorneys promptly appealed.

Last week, the Court of Appeals upheld Batts’ ruling, rejecting Adelson’s arguments to overturn as being without merit. Moreover, they noted that Luangisa “has not objected” to answering O’Keeffe’s questions.

One of the world’s richest men, Adelson has a history of using his unlimited resources to punish journalists who say things he doesn’t like. A decade ago, Adelson sued Las Vegas Review-Journal scribe John L. Smith after taking offense to a book Smith wrote that contained what Adelson considered to be unflattering references to his early days operating vending machines.

The libel suit was eventually dismissed with prejudice, but not before Smith – whose daughter was undergoing treatment for brain cancer at the time – was forced to declare bankruptcy. Smith left the Las Vegas Review-Journal in April, shortly after Adelson purchased the paper and his new editorial team imposed new restrictions on who could write about what.

Earlier this week, Adelson reached a settlement with Jacobs that reportedly cost he and Sands between $75m and $100m. Too bad O’Keeffe didn’t have a recording device in the room when Adelson signed that check, as she probably could have got enough evidence to prove her case there and then.