PHOENIX — Two and half years after the worst mass shooting in modern American history, survivors and families of victims of the Las Vegas massacre have reached a deadline – the date to “sign on” and receive their portion of an $800 million settlement with MGM Resorts International.
Now, at least 20 survivors who were part of the settlement tell the 12 News I-Team they are shocked and disappointed about a possible conflict of interest they say they did not fully understand during mediation.
“I think they should’ve been crystal clear of who the players were in this whole thing,” said Michelle Leonard, a shooting survivor who is part of the settlement.
“I just feel like it’s unfair,” said a concert attendee and survivor who asked only to be identified by her first name, Coryne.
The potential conflict involves Jennifer Togliatti, one of two retired judges who mediated the settlement. Last October, President Trump nominated Togliatti to be a federal judge, and her nomination is currently pending in the U.S. Senate.
Jennifer Togliatti’s father, George Togliatti was Vice President of Security, Surveillance and Safety at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, at the time of the shooting, according to an MGM spokesperson and multiple public sources including his biography for his adjunct faculty job on the University of Las Vegas Nevada website.
“I think we should have known because the lawsuit is against MGM,” Coryne said. “Now you have a party involved who is related to MGM -- how can that be fair?”
Attorney Robert Eglet said his firm represents approximately 2,000 of the 4,000 survivors in the settlement. He said that Judge Togliatti was recommended as a mediator by the plaintiffs’ attorneys, knowing her father’s role as an MGM security executive.
“Judge Togliatti, she’s been one of the very, very best judges in Nevada,” Eglet told the I-Team. “She did disclose to us that ‘my dad works for MGM’ and we talked to all the lawyers in our group and laid it all out to them; we don’t think that’s a problem we want to go forward with her."
More than 50 attorneys represent approximately 4,000 clients in the settlement, and it is unclear the extent to which each attorney disclosed information about the mediator’s ties to MGM -- though attorneys who represented thousands of clients said this information was fully disclosed.
“Nevada law doesn’t require that lawyers even disclose this to clients,” Eglet said. “My understanding is the lawyers all did.”
Eglet said that attorneys sent disclosures in letters or emails, but would not share a copy with the I-Team, citing attorney-client privilege.
However, more than a dozen survivors tell the I-Team they recall no disclosure whatsoever.
In all, the I-Team attempted to contact more than 120 survivors of the Las Vegas shooting. Those who responded include people who were shot, trampled and suffer PTSD because of the shooting. Some were at the concert with their minor children. Others ran back into the crowd to help pull more people to safety. All of their lives changed that day -- and they continue to heal from their physical and mental injuries.
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Nearly all agreed to a settlement with MGM, and are expecting to receive their portion of the record $800 million settlement over the next few months. The funds are allocated based on severity of injury, among other factors.
Many of those who responded voiced fears of speaking out publicly due to a non-disclosure clause in the settlement agreement.
The settlement guarantees compensation for those survivors who opt in. Those that opt out could continue to pursue a lawsuit. But a lawsuit, including an eventual trial, is a risk, with no guarantee of compensation and the possibility of additional trauma for victims.
‘You will never be that person again’
On Oct. 1, 2017, 22,000 people crowded the Route 91 Harvest country musical festival when a gunman, later identified as Stephen Paddock, rained bullets down on the crowd from his position inside the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino before turning a gun on himself, according to law enforcement.
Sixty people died from gunshot wounds. Hundreds more suffered injuries as they raced to escape the gunfire.
MGM Resorts International owns Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. In federal court filings, attorneys for MGM wrote that MGM Resorts Festival Grounds, LLC owns and operates the Las Vegas Village where the Route 91 festival took place.
Michelle Leonard was a vendor and had a booth in the center of the festival. She said that day forever changed her life and the lives of those in the crowd.
“I talked to the Red Cross and the lady, she drew a circle. She says, ‘this was you before the shooting’ and she drew another circle and she said ‘this is you after the shooting,’” Michelle described. “You will never be that person again.”
Michelle sold clothes and jewelry to concert attendees. When the bullets started hitting, she began to run. She said she was pushed over a concrete barricade while trying to escape the carnage, sustaining serious injuries.
In the years since the shooting, Michelle has undergone multiple surgeries on her ankle and knee. She’s struggled to sleep because of the memories and says she wants to see safety changes at concerts across the U.S. following this tragedy.
She opted into the settlement, but since she says she learned of the relationship between Judge Togliatti’s father and MGM, Michelle said she felt revictimized.
“Red flags keep on popping up,” Michelle said.
“Indeed, her father’s employment by MGM may motivate her to get the matter resolved.”
In the months following the massacre in Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International filed multiple federal lawsuits against victims of the shooting, seeking a federal order that would limit MGM’s liability in the shooting under the US SAFETY Act.
The SAFETY Act of 2002, encourages companies to use security measures approved by the Department of Homeland Security to prevent mass violence.
In court filings, MGM stated that hundreds of concert attendees had filed or intended to file lawsuits seeking to hold MGM liable for “deaths, injuries and emotional distress” resulting from the shooting.
The lawsuits filed by concert survivors were dismissed in state courts, though several of MGM’s federal lawsuits remain open - pending the conclusion of the settlement, court records show.
According to federal court filings, by Nov. 1, 2018, MGM and attorneys for survivors agreed to mediate the cases. On New Year’s Eve 2018, attorneys for MGM and the survivors jointly submitted a status report stating the mediators were selected and mediation was scheduled to begin Feb. 19, 2019.
Judge Togliatti announced her retirement from the Clark County district court bench on Jan. 2, 2019, where she had served for 16 years.
Her father, George Togliatti, left his job at MGM after he was appointed director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety on Jan. 10, 2019.
Attorney Craig Eiland said his firm represented about 1,000 clients. He said he disclosed the father-daughter relationship to his clients, and that he received no objections or comments. He did not provide any copies of the disclosures to 12 News.
The I-Team obtained copies of two letters sent by lawyers about the potential conflict of interest. One letter, obtained anonymously, stated in-part, “We know that there have been postings on social media regarding Judge Togliatti due to her father having ties to MGM. The committee does not believe Togliatti will be biased given her exceptional level of bench experience and the heightened degree of scrutiny on the case.”
A second letter obtained by the I-Team described the relationship in more detail. “Coincidentally, Judge Togliatti’s father happens to be the head of security for MGM Resorts International,” the second letter read.
“We have evaluated this potential conflict and, at the present time, we do not believe it will prevent her from being an effective mediator in this case for several reasons,” it continued. “We have been told that her heart is with the victims, she demonstrated herself to be capable of resolving cases with substantial damages, and she appears to be someone who MGM will listen to when it comes to placing a value on MGM’s risk in this litigation. Indeed, her father’s employment by MGM may motivate her to get the matter resolved.”
Togliatti was a respected Nevada judge and has been praised by the state’s two Democratic senators as “one of the most respected jurists in Nevada” and as having “a great reputation” for fairness.
Christian Morris, of the Morris Nettles law firm in Nevada confirmed to 12 News her firm sent clients information provided in the second disclosure.
“At first the knee-jerk reaction would be, ‘what the heck,’ right?” Morris said. “There’s no perfect, clean mediator who has only ever done stuff that benefits my side -- there’s always a colorful past, and we use that to benefit our clients’ cases and we explain to our clients why we’re picking who we are picking.”
“The Judge (Togliatti) did the correct thing by disclosing to counsel that she had a personal relationship that could be perceived as affecting her impartiality as a mediator,” said Lynda Shely, an Arizona attorney who provides ethics advice to law firms. “Presumably she told the lawyers that the personal relationship would not disqualify her as a mediator but left it to the lawyers to decide. The lawyers could make that decision but ideally they should have disclosed the information to their clients.”
Robert Eglet – who worked with attorneys across the country representing survivors said this was not a conflict of interest as mediation is non-binding, and Judge Togliatti was working as a negotiator between MGM and the survivor’s attorneys.
“She has no decision-making power so there is no conflict of interest,” Eglet said. “I think she did her job professionally.”
Retired Judge Louis Meisinger of California was the second mediator in the case. Judge Meisinger was appointed to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2008 and stepped down in 2013. Prior to his appointment, he worked in private practice, including 5 years as executive Vice President and general counsel for The Walt Disney Company. He declined the I-Team’s request for comment on this story.
Survivors’ attorneys stated that having two mediators was meant to ensure fairness in the process.
“She has her career and I have mine.”
Jennifer Togliatti declined the I-Team’s interview request, instead providing a statement via email reading in-part: “Along with my co-mediator, I have been retained by the Plaintiffs’ attorneys in this matter and continue to work on the case.”
She directed the I-Team to speak with the leadership group of attorneys, including Robert Eglet’s firm, and said, “Any one of the leadership attorneys from this very sophisticated and experienced group of attorneys in the Plaintiffs’ leadership umbrella can speak to the all of the appropriate disclosures made in this case before my retention and continuing thereafter should they deem it appropriate to do so.”
George Togliatti worked at MGM Resorts International for more than 10 years prior to his appointment as director of the Nevada Department of Public Safety.
This is George Togliatti’s second time serving as the director of public safety for the state of Nevada. He also worked for the FBI for more than 20 years.
In an email to the I-Team, George Togliatti wrote, “My daughter and I are well known within the southern Nevada community. We share a rather uncommon last name and as public servants our careers are well documented in various public sources.”
“I’m very proud of my daughter. She has her career and I have mine. I have nothing to do with her career nor she mine. I have had nothing to do with any negotiations or mediation involving her, MGM, nor the plaintiffs nor their attorneys.”
He did not respond to 12 News’ request for an interview.
“Judge Togliatti is one of the most respected and capable mediators in Las Vegas,” said Debra DeShong, a spokesperson for MGM Resorts International, in an email.
“A mediator, unlike a judge or an arbitrator, does not make any decisions concerning a case. The plaintiffs in this case were represented by some of the top trial lawyers in the country who were fully aware of the relationship between Judge Togliatti and a former MGM executive. In fact, they proposed the Judge as a mediator in the case. We are pleased that we were able to reach a settlement and help to advance the healing process for all involved,” DeShong wrote.
“It’s very fishy to me if she is the mediator.”
On Oct. 3, 2019, MGM Resorts International and attorneys for the survivors announced a settlement agreement, of up to $800 million. MGM Resorts’ $750 million insurance policies would fund most of the settlement, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
Survivors had until May 14, 2020 to sign on.
At least one survivor did opt out of the settlement, he said partly because of the perceived conflict of interest, which was disclosed by his attorney after he raised questions.
Roger Kenis provided emails to 12 News showing he raised alarm bells with his attorney, Brian Nettles, before mediation started that he found Togliatti’s role as a mediator problematic.
“I could be wrong, but it’s very fishy to me if she is the mediator,” Kenis said in an email, dated Feb. 13, 2019.
In an emailed response dated Feb. 14, 2019 provided by Kenis, his attorney responded in part, “Every attorney I know that is associated with this case has agreed to use Togliatti and they all know the ‘issues.’ Our firm will be participating in the mediation for all of our clients - should you not be willing to be part of this, you have the option to terminate our services.”
Kenis continued as a client with Nettles Morris law firm for the following year before opting out of the settlement agreement in April 2020, according to documents Kenis provided.
“Unfortunately the justice system can’t bring back lives. It can’t bring back experiences. It can’t wipe away what happened,” said Christian Morris, who is Brian Nettles’ partner. “We can only get them money... The whole goal was to get as much money as possible for everyone in the mediation. And that’s the sole goal, because unfortunately, that’s the only thing we can ask for.”
“The case resolved for a very fair number for both parties. 100 percent of the insurance money was put into this,” Eglet said.
Still, some victims feel unsettled.
“How can you say that? I don’t believe that is the opinion of survivors that it was fair,” Coryne said.
“This is why I’m speaking out. Because this is wrong,” Michelle Leonard said.
Photographer Carlos Chavez, producer Jeff Vinton, and reporter Joe Dana contributed to this report. For tips on this or any other story, contact the 12 News I-Team at email@example.com