Even if retired judge George Schiavelli was taking medication strong enough to “knock out a horse” when he ruled in favor of Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella in a dispute over a mid-2000s rave festival, a California appeals court judge ruled earlier this week that the November 2018 ruling stands.
That’s because Rotella’s former partners, Brian Alper and Brett Ballou, did not protest Schiavelli’s pill popping during the arbitration hearing, said judge Eileen C. Moore, citing the principle of “you snooze, you lose” in a snappy ruling. She said the pair should have addressed the issue during the original nine-day hearing and demanded that Schiavelli disqualify himself at that time.
The dispute is linked to a disagreement over the future of the How Sweet It Is music festival, which ran from 1999 to 2001. Rotella helped revive and finance the festival in 2005 but had a falling out with Alper and Ballou over the future of the event in 2010. Alper and Ballou claimed Rotella created a competing event called Beyond Wonderland, which still operates today, and that they were owed a piece of the festival.
The legal fight went to arbitration, where the case was heard by Schiavelli, who eventually ruled against Alper and Ballou, saying the men bore most of the responsibility for the collapse of their relationship with Rotella and Insomniac due to their “cavalier and essentially non-negotiable attitude.” Schiavelli also noted that the lawsuit wasn’t filed against Insomniac until three years after the initial dispute, following the purchase of Insomniac by Live Nation for $44 million in 2013.
During the arbitration, Schiavelli told both parties “that he was [a] party to a personal injury action” related to a fall from a malfunctioning escalator in Encino, California, Moore recounted in her decision. He told both sides “that his injuries were causing him great pain, and that he was taking powerful painkillers that `would knock a horse out.'”
“On the first day of the hearing he pulled out his pill bottle and stated he was taking his 10 mg of Percocet to help with his pain,” Alper wrote in a sworn statement. “He typically took the medication with a soda or similar drink before or after his lunch. Initially the Percocet use wasn’t a major concern until the end of the first week of the arbitration when I noticed facts being mixed up.”
At one point in the hearing, Schiavelli pulled out a large bag “revealing multiple prescription bottles” and considered offering Alper and Ballou’s attorney a painkiller before changing his mind, saying, “I’d give you one of these, but it would probably knock you out and you wouldn’t be any good to anybody,” according to court documents. Alper and Ballou’s lawyer also observed that Schiavelli was “unusually thirsty and constantly drank large amounts of Gatorade and energy drinks” during the hearing.
Lawyers for Alper and Ballou later sued to strike Schiavelli’s ruling favoring Rotella, arguing that “the Arbitrator failed to disclose his alleged inability to conduct or timely complete the proceedings,” according to court documents.
Rotella’s attorney Gary Kaufman said he believed the use of medication had no impact on Schiavelli, noting he “interjected with pointed questions, paid full attention, heard and ruled on motions and objections” and said Alper and Ballou’s attorney never mentioned their objection to the taking of medication during the arbitration hearing.
The ruling made by Schiavelli, who died of cancer in Sept. 2019, was first appealed to an Orange County judge, who declined to overturn it. It was then appealed to the Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District in Orange County, where Moore was assigned to the case.
In her opinion, Moore stated that the comment about the drugs being strong enough to “knock out a horse” was “obviously humorous hyperbole that no one would have taken seriously.” Besides, the judge continued, “plaintiffs did not make a demand at any point to disqualify the arbitrator, nor did they even question the arbitrator’s ability to conduct the hearing. Indeed, plaintiffs’ counsel made a strategic decision ‘to finish the arbitration hearing and hope for the best.’”
Billboard reached out to both Insomniac and lawyers for Alper and Ballou but did not receive a response.