Vegas judge should
recuse from Binion retrial
Judge autographed books alleging "dalliances"
between litigants scheduled for re-trial in his court
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
December 8, 2003
"But the most enjoyable privilege might have
been having sex with Murphy right under the noses of the guards. At one
session, while the lawyers and other defense team members were talking
with the two defendants, Murphy was observed slipping to her knees under
the table and giving oral sex to Tabish. Defense team members could hardly
believe their eyes as other team members continued the discussion as if
nothing unusual was happening. The corrections officers, sitting outside
the boardroom, apparently never saw Murphy disappear under the table."
- Excerpt from page 284
of Murder in Sin City
Bonaventure's autograph in book describing sexual "dalliances"
"I have no implied or express malice toward Richard Tabish or
Sandra Murphy that would prevent me from sitting in a fair and impartial
manner on cases where they are the defendants." -
Judge Joseph Bonaventure
LAS VEGAS - After admitting to having advance knowledge of a book describing
an alleged illicit sex act between Defendants currently being tried in
his court, Las Vegas Judge Joseph Bonaventure still autographed dozens
of copies of the paperback at a promotional book signing party. His action
may have violated Canon 5 of the Nevada Code of Judicial Ethics: "Not maintaining
the dignity appropriate to judicial office," and Cannon 2 that states:
"A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times
in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality
of the judiciary."
On Saturday, August 11, 2002, Judge Bonaventure was apparently unable
to find a bookstore to purchase a copy of the paperback which described
alleged "inappropriate activity" by two persons who had just been convicted
in his court of allegedly killing Horseshoe Casino owner Ted Binion. The
sexual activity described in Murder in Sin City
during a visit the Judge authorized to an attorney's office for an attorney/client
conference -- a meeting that took place under the supervision of jail guards.
Murder in Sin City was authored
by Las Vegas Sun investigative reporter Jeff German, a close friend of
With admitted knowledge that the book contained the sexual misconduct
allegation, in addition to knowing that the guilty verdict was being appealed
and if the appeal was successful the case could be remanded back for retrial
in his court, the Judge still signed dozens of copies at a party held in
a hotel owned by someone who hired a private investigator to assist homicide
detectives and paid
several witnesses up to $20,000 each to testify. Also of interest was that
immediately following the verdict, the majority of the jury members were
seen at the Horseshoe having dinner with the casino's owners. Knowing this,
the Judge should have kept his distance.
When legally challenged
for his actions at the booksigning party, the Judge had this to say in
defense of staying on the case:
AFFIDAVIT OF JOSEPH R. BONAVENTURE:
I, Judge Joseph R. Bonaventure, am employed as a Clark County District
Court Judge. I presided over the Ted Binion Murder trial, during which
time Al Lasso was my Law Clerk. I usually work every Saturday at the courthouse.
In August of 2O01, news reports had stated that a recently published book
by Jeff German on the Binion Murder trial revealed that the defendant's
may have engaged in inappropriate activity on a court authorized visit
to their attorney's office. As I authorized such trips for the purpose
of assisting the attorneys decipher the large amount of paperwork, such
dalliances, if true, would cause me to cease such trips in future cases
and possibly reprimand the attorneys involved. I attempted to get a copy
of the book at a bookstore but was informed that most if not all the bookstores
were sold out of the book. I had read that the Horseshoe Casino was having
a book signing on Saturday August 11, 2001 and that the book would be available
for sale there. On Saturday August 11, 2001 Al Lasso and myself were working
in-chambers at the Courthouse. It was decided that when we finished working
we would walk to the Horseshoe Casino and buy a copy. We entered the book
signing area and there was a very large crowd waiting to buy the book.
Jeff German offered me a complimentary copy of the book, I refused, but
someone in the line asked me for an autograph in his book, so I gave Al
Lasso the money to buy a copy of the book for me. As more and more
people asked for autographs, I moved over and out of the line a bit and
began to sign their books. When Al returned, the people in line began to
ask him for his autograph, There was an area with a table set up for the
prosecutors to sit down and sign books but at no time did I sit down at
any table to sign books. I stood the whole time as I continued to try to
politely leave. Finally, the line diminished and we were able to leave.
At no time did. I intentionally go to the book sale to sign books, It was
completely inadvertent that I ended up doing so, as there was no previous
planning involved. I have no implied or express malice toward Richard Tabish
or Sandra Murphy that would prevent me from Sitting in a fair and impartial
manner on cases where they are the defendants. Further Affiant Sayeth Naught.
Dated April 17, 2002.
Judge signing autograph (KLAS TV)
Before the Judge arrived at the Horseshoe at approximately 1 PM, witnesses
waiting in the queue to enter the book signing room stated that Becky Behnen,
the estranged sister of the late Ted Binion and current owner of the Horseshoe,
was heard saying "We are waiting for the Judge. Is he here yet?"
Minutes later when the Judge arrived and entered the party room, the witnesses
said they heard Jeff German address the Judge and say, "I saved a copy
of the book for you."
According to witnesses, the Judge stayed at the party until approximately
2:15 PM, when the Judge was spotted adjourning to a bar in the lower level
of the hotel. Another witness recounted that he saw the Judge sometime
between 2 and 4 PM with a glass in his hand having a drink at the bar and
talking to Becky and an unidentified man. Witness's statements indicate
Judge Bonaventure seemed in no hurry to leave the casino that Saturday,
though his clerk Al Lasso did state in his Affidavit, "We continually
tried to politely leave. Eventually with the line dwindling, we left through
some back entrance."
The Horseshoe Casino is well known as a generous contributor during
political campaigns, and Becky Behnen who produced the event played a key
the scenes for prosecutors in gathering evidence against Binion's accused
killers. Based on witness's statements, it was obvious that the Judge's
presence was premeditated and far from "inadvertent" as he claimed.
The relationship between the Binion siblings was strained and bitter
prior to Ted's untimely death, a death that was initially diagnosed by
the Clark County Coroner to be the result of a lethal overdose of narcotics.
Following Ted's funeral, Becky Behnen encouraged then-Clark County District
Attorney Stewart Bell to disregard the coroner's report and open a murder
investigation that later resulted in the convictions of Sandra Murphy and
Richard Tabish for first degree murder. Following the nationally televised
trial, Bell was elected District Court Judge.
In 1996, Ted Binion was forced to forfeit his interest in the Horseshoe
Club by the Nevada Gaming Commission because of his involvement with drugs
and underworld figures. In an unrelated 1997 police report, Ted Binion
accused Becky's son Benny Behnen of a drive-by shooting at his Palomino
Lane estate he shared with Sandra Murphy.
The day before his Sept. 17, 1998 death, Ted Binion gave $50,000 to
an unsuccessful candidate for Nevada Governor. It was thought that if the
candidate -- then Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones -- won the election, she would
reinstate Ted's gaming license prompting speculation that Ted might try
to take back the Horseshoe from his sister.
Also, had Murphy not been convicted of his murder, she would have inherited
a large portion of Binion's multimillion-dollar estate including his mansion
where it was suspected that he had buried
treasure. Because of her conviction, Binion's entire fortune went to his
family members, some of whom may have later squandered it away.
Regarding the alleged sexual incident between Murphy and Tabish, according
to the Defense attorneys who were present at the conference where the episode
allegedly occurred, the book's description was blatantly untrue and totally
fictitious -- something added at the last minute to promote sales of an
otherwise bland book. It was also ludicrous to say that attorneys would
tolerate such an act occurring in their presence especially when police
officers were standing by just outside the door of the conference room.
Tabish and Murphy
Judge Bonaventure should have avoided promoting a book that demonized
litigants currently in his court. His book signing at the Horseshoe showed
an obvious bias, but the local media took little interest in covering the
incident involving such a popular Judge.
Following his visit to the Behnen family's business, I couldn't help
but wonder what would have been the reaction had Judge Bonaventure paid
a friendly visit to the business of either Ken Murphy or Frank Tabish,
the fathers of the two Defendants? Would he still be considered as acting
in a "fair and impartial manner?"
Another book about the case, Death in the Desert by Cathy Scott,
is considered to be objective -- not favoring either the prosecution or
the defense. Judge Bonaventure did not appear at the book signing party
held for Ms. Scott.
Since the trial, the Horseshoe has fallen on hard times. The IRS just
placed a tax lien
on the 52-year-old downtown casino claiming Behnen has yet to pay $5 million
in past due payroll taxes. In addition, Behnen is in a legal battle with
the Fremont Street Experience over more than $2.5 million in unpaid dues
to the pedestrian mall. The property also has been behind on lease payments
owed to landlords, and behind on employee's health care premiums. Even
the often photographed Million Dollar Horseshoe display was cashed in to
keep the casino afloat.
Now, to add to the Behnen's troubles, the state Supreme Court has ordered
Judge Bonaventure to schedule a retrial -- a trial that may reveal information
about others yet unnamed who may be responsible for Ted Binion's mysterious
Copyright © Steve Miller
email Steve Miller at: Stevemiller4lv@aol.com