Like Father, Like Son
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
September 27, 2004
LAS VEGAS - The reason I'm writing about this
now is that I filed a super-secret complaint with the Nevada Commission
on Judicial Discipline in April 2002 against the actions of Clark County
District Court Judge Joe Bonaventure, and last week the story surprisingly
was leaked to the mainstream press.
On Tuesday, September 21, George Knapp of KLAS
TV Channel 8 News broke the story on the six o'clock broadcast. The
following morning, the story was all over the front page on both sides
of the state. Because of this revelation of which I had no part, I decided
to go public as is my First Amendment right. Now its up to the Judicial
Discipline Commission to explain why they have sat on this important matter
for twenty-eight months, and there is still no resolution just two weeks
before the opening of the re-trial in the Binion case. If the commission's
explanation is not forthcoming, the public should be very concerned as
In my once-secret April 16, 2002 complaint, I
County District Court Judge Joseph Bonaventure, on August 11, 2001, may
have violated Canon 5 of the Nevada Code of Judicial Ethics: "not maintaining
the dignity appropriate to judicial office." I also believe that he violated
Cannon 2 that states: "A judge avoid impropriety and the appearance of
impropriety in all of the judge's activities. 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."
Bonaventure, the judge currently presiding over the appeals of Sandra Murphy
and Richard Tabish, attended an August 11, 2001 book signing at the Horseshoe
Casino. While there, the Judge, Prosecutors David Roger and David Wall,
and even the Judge's law clerk, Joe Lasso, autographed dozens of the books
entitled "Murder in Sin City, an amateurishly written paperback telling
one side of the story of the death of former Horseshoe owner Lonnie "Ted"
Binion. A statement printed on page 284 of the book gives emphasis to the
reason Judge Bonaventure should have voluntarily removed himself from this
a time when the Defendants in a case under the jurisdiction of Judge Bonaventure
are actively seeking an Appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court, and knowing
the possibility of the Nevada Supreme Court remanding the case back to
his court for further judicial review, Judge Bonaventure should have been
acutely aware that it would be totally improper for him to participate
in the promotion of a book about the case in chief. Therefore, Judge Bonaventure,
his Law Clerk, and the Prosecutors should have absolutely refused to accept
the invitation to appear at the promotional gathering, and especially should
have refused to participate in the undignified act of personally autographing
and subsequently promoting the sale of a book that demonizes through the
alleged description of illicit sexual acts the Defendants in a case that
is still active in his court.
following statement is contained in the book that the Judge, Prosecutors,
and Law Clerk autographed:
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 “Autograph party,” a spokesperson for the Judge said the Judge’s participation
in the book signing was an unplanned coincidence and that he (along with
Roger, Wall, and Lasso) were just passing through the casino when the Judge
was stopped and asked to sign a few books.
to a witness I intend to produce, at least two dozen books were autographed,
and Becky Behnen, the producer of the event, was heard making statements
to the effect that the Judge was expected “at any minute.” Therefore,
it is obvious that the Judge’s presence was premeditated and far from “accidental”
as his representative disingenuously claimed in media interviews.
to the Defense attorneys who were present at the time of the alleged sexual
incident, the described incident did not occur and the book’s description
of the incident was blatantly untrue and totally fictitious. It is ludicrous
to believe that officers of the court would tolerate such an act to occur
in their presence especially when police officers were standing by just
outside the door of the conference room.
Bonaventure should have avoided being a party to promoting and publicizing
the sale of what has been described as the "Fellatio book," a book that
is totally designed to degrade and demonize litigants in his court.
His action showed a clear bias in an ongoing case before his court.
if Judge Bonaventure claims that he was not aware of the illicit sexual
act described on page 284 of “Murder in Sin City,” as a long-time
member of the judiciary he should have done his due diligence and reviewed
the entire content of the paperback before adding his autograph to dozens
of copies thereby endorsing the veracity of the book’s contents at a promotional
event in a casino owned by the sister of the man the Defendants are accused
of killing. This, while these same Defendants are Appealing their conviction
before the Nevada Supreme Court and pleading to have a new trial scheduled
in Judge Bonaventure’s court.
willful action clearly had the appearance of impropriety and did nothing
to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
Judge Joseph T. Bonaventure should be severely sanctioned for his careless
public action that brought disesteem upon the judiciary.
No action was
forthcoming other than several letters saying the commission was going
to hold off until the Appeal was concluded, and that I should maintain
confidentiality. Then on August 29, 2003, after sixteen months of
inactivity on the part of the commission, I tore a page out of a public
document and included it as an addendum to my complaint. The document was
a motion filed by Tabish attorney Tony Serra to remove the judge. Though
well written and completely factual, another Dist. Court Judge ruled to
keep Bonaventure on the case:
Bonaventure’s presence at the book signing yields the perception that he
is acting in a biased mode because of his closeness to the Binion family
members present, as the public is well aware that these same people instituted
a private investigation against both defendants which eventually resulted
in their criminal convictions.
The judge didn't need to attend the book signing himself as he admits to
giving the money to Al Lasso to buy the book on his behalf. Why then,
did he persist and enter the Horseshoe Casino that same day.
The judge didn't need to autograph the book for anyone as he could simply
have excused himself and explained that it was inappropriate for him as
a judge to do so. The act of repeatedly signing numerous books, including
cosigning books with Becky Behnen on the same inside cover, was done voluntarily
and with forethought. It was an inexcusable act that goes directly
to the publics' perception of bias.
The judge needs to explain what exact efforts he made to purchase a copy
of the book in other locations and why Al Lasso could not have gone alone
to acquire a copy of the book.
The statement made by Becky Behnen, overheard by Joyce Albano standing
in a line at the book signing "Is the judge here yet?" strongly suggests
that there was forethought involved in the judge's appearance at the book
signing - simply put, he was invited to the book signing; and his affidavit
The book signing was a commercial event and the judges presence was a strong
endorsement for a one-sided, defamatory, salacious and biased publication
and in the minds of the lay public, the reasonable perception of the community
can only be that the judge condoned the contents of the book, a one-sided
representation of a case that he has presided over.
The judge says in his affidavit that the signing of the books was "completely
inadvertent" [Page 2: Lines 12-13]. To the contrary, the signing
of the books was a volitional and intentional act. He autographed multiple
copies of books, not one or two "inadvertently."
Both the judge's affidavit "... as I continued to try to politely leave"
[Page 2: Lines 8-9] and Al Lasso's affidavit, "We continually tried to
politely leave" [Page 2: Line 4] is at variance with people who were present
throughout the book signing and witnessed no attempts being made by the
judge or his law clerk to leave at any time.
Both the judge's affidavit, "Finally, the line diminished and we were able
to leave" Page 2: Line 10 and Al Lasso's affidavit, "... with the line
dwindling we left through some back entrance" [Page 2: Lines 4-5] are distinctly
misleading in light of Anthony Lee Martin's affidavit where Mr. Martin
states: "That sometime between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. [Page 1: Line
9] ... standing approximately 10-15 feet away from the bar, I saw Judge
Joseph Bonaventure with a glass in his hand having a drink and talking
to Becky Behnen ..."[Page 1: Lines 14-15]
Twenty-eight months later, still NOTHING has happened
other than someone in Carson City letting the cat out of the bag, and the
book's disgruntled author calling me names
in this morning's paper, saying I was "joined at the hip with the Binion
defense team," and "If only the media would get wise to Steve Miller."
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking to the trial's opening gavel.
Also, since Rick Tabish is still in prison, he
has asked his attorneys to not protest the judge any longer fearing that
a change of judge would prolong his wait for trial and his prison stay.
When a high profile or televised case is about
to be assigned, Clark County District Court Judge Joe Bonaventure is apt
to be "randomly selected" as the judge. Its amazing how Judge Bonaventure
always seems to be sitting on the bench in highly publicized trials such
as those of Margaret
Binion, and Jeremy
Strohmeyer. Now there may be another Judge Joe Bonaventure waiting
in the wings; his son "Joe Bonaventure." More on that later.
There are 19 District Court Judges in Clark County.
They are supposed to be chosen in "random" order for cases by a computerized
system that selects the judges in chronological order for the next case
waiting on top of the stack of cases to be assigned. However, certain judges
seem to always be in the right chronological order at the right time to
get cases that appeal to them.
For instance, for a while there was a question
as to why District Court Judge Nancy Saitta was assigned all cases involving
topless bar owner Rick Rizzolo, at one time
Now, the same questions are being asked about
Judge Joe Bonaventure. Why is he becoming the best known TV trial judge
in the nation, and why is he still going to preside over the upcoming nationally
televised re-trail of Rick Tabish and Sandy Murphy though he has been asked
to step down by the defense, and the first Binion trial's verdict was overturned
by the Nevada Supreme Court?
Through careful investigation, I learned that
a court clerk is the culprit. In Judge Saitta's case, I was told by an
insider that the clerk allegedly would pull cases involving Rizzolo and
place them aside until Judge Siatta's name was next in rotation, then enter
that case as her name was about to be "randomly selected" by the court's
computer. The same scheme is now alleged for Judge Bonaventure when a case
that will be nationally televised is filed.
"Judge Bonaventure" autograph in
book that depicted one side of the story
Sandra Murphy and Richard
In his affidavit in response to Serra's motion
to remove him, Judge Bonaventure admitted to being fully informed that
the above paragraph was contained in the books he signed, but he signed
the books anyway. "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.
" - Judge Joseph Bonaventure
For over twenty-eight months, the Judicial Commission's
Chief Investigator evidently did not feel the judge's pre-knowledge of
the "dalliance" paragraph was relevant, nor was his autographing of the
books at the decedent's former place of business alongside the decedent's
sister and the prosecutors of relevance. In contrast, the investigator
must have thought such actions build esteem for the judiciary in the eyes
of the public. By the commission's subsequent lack of action, the upcoming
trial and the judge's performance will now be under an even a stronger
magnifying glass -- which may be a blessing in disguise.
Judge autographing books that described
"dalliances" (KLAS TV NEWS)
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 the prosecutors have protested?
Would he still be considered as acting in a "fair and impartial manner?"
Alas, this never happened, nor did the judge participate in the book signing
party held for another local author of a book about the trial.
"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, however.
I had kept my complaint confidential for over
twenty-eight months, and now someone leaked it to the media. In response
to dozens of calls for comment, I sent the following press release on Friday,
September 24, two days after the story broke:
IMMEDIATE RELEASE - On Thursday, Sept. 23, at 4 PM, following the Nevada
Commission on Judicial Discipline's hearing regarding my 28 month old complaint
on the conduct of Clark County District Court Judge Joe Bonaventure, I
was told by the secretary of the commission that a letter was being formulated
and would be mailed to me within the next two weeks describing the outcome
of the sixth hearing on my complaint. This is the sixth time in 28 months
that I have received the same telephonic information following a hearing.
On the previous five occasions, within three weeks of the hearing I received
a "CONFIDENTIAL" letter warning me of the penalties of disclosing the existence
of my complaint, and stating that the complaint was still "under investigation."
Being that Judge Bonaventure will on Oct. 11 -- a little over two weeks
from now -- open the re-trial of the Binion case, and being that my letter
will most likely not arrive before the trial opens, I believe the commission
is filibustering as a favor to someone. If this is the case, and I sincerely
hope it isn't, the taxpayers should be saved the burden of paying to keep
such a malfeasant commission in effect. If, in fact, the commission did
act on my complaint yesterday, I will gladly retract my "malfeasant" remark.
In the meantime, the judge, the state, the prosecutors, the defendants,
and I deserve closure on this elongated matter. Otherwise the trial will
take place under a cloud that will make a subsequent appeal that much easier.
Either my complaint has no merit, or the Judge should recuse. We deserve
to know the answer after patiently (and silently) waiting for 28 months!
I also thought about why someone other than myself
would have leaked this out? I came up with several scenarios, but the most
logical one was that someone close to the investigation wanted to scuttle
it so the judge could continue presiding over the Binion case. Why else
would a taxpayer funded commission sit on an important complaint for twenty-eight
months? This brought to mind a problem I had in 1999 with the woman
who would later become the commission's Chief Investigator.
My curiosity inspired me to send the following
PRESS RELEASE to explain my concern:
IMMEDIATE RELEASE: The following is public information about the person
who is currently the Chief Investigator for the Nevada Commission on Judicial
Discipline, the same commission that has IGNORED my complaint for twenty-eight
months. Until the story of the complaint against Joe Bonaventure broke
on KLAS TV Channel 8 News last Tuesday evening, I obediently remained silent
for twenty-eight months hoping the commission was acting in good faith.
I went public after the story became public domain as is my First Amendment
right. The public has the right to know why the commission is recalcitrant.-
Ethics Commission is Intoxicated With Their Power
am vehemently opposed to people like you being on public boards -- or on
public roads -- after being arrested for a crime as serious as Drunken
Driving. Furthermore, you lied to Nevada Highway Patrol officer R. M. Smith
on the night of your arrest according to his official report. Case No.
6985949. You had the gall to tell him that you had not been drinking, then
changed your story! (BURRRP!) Why you chose to remain on the Ethics Commission
after that night in 1997 completely baffles me. How dare you pass judgment
on the ethics of others!
Ethics complaints can't be sealed
CITY -- A law that kept ethics complaints about public officials secret
has been declared unconstitutional by a federal judge. U.S. District Judge
Howard McKibben of Reno ruled that complaints made to the Nevada Ethics
Commission can no longer be sealed, that they are public from the time
of filing. FULL
Now, after the s - - t hit the fan, I can't help
but wonder if the twenty-eight month filibuster was an act of retaliation
by the Chief Investigator? If so, she needs to find another line of work.
If not, I owe her a big apology.
Needless to say, I've lost confidence that the
commission will act on my now-public complaint prior to the October 11
trial, or ever! I'm also prepared along with the ACLU to take action if
their Chief Investigator wishes to shoot the messenger for speaking out
after the commission showed their inability to keep the complaint confidential.
According to the Las
Vegas SUN on September 22: The
state American Civil Liberties Union has taken up that issue in a lawsuit
that is pending in federal court. "The idea that judges have to be protected
by secrecy is very troubling," Nevada ACLU General Counsel Allen Lichtenstein
said. According to the First Amendment's free speech guarantee, people
are free to openly criticize government, he said."
Now, according to Nevada law, it time the commission
explain their actions and reason for stalling this case for twenty-eight
months. NRS 1.469 Authorized statements
by commission when subject matter becomes public. In any disciplinary proceeding
in which the subject matter becomes public, through independent sources,
or upon a determination pursuant to NRS 1.467 and filing of a formal statement
of charges, the commission may issue such statements as it deems appropriate
under the circumstances to:
1. Confirm the pendency of the investigation;
2. Clarify the procedural aspects of the disciplinary
3. Explain the right of the justice or judge
to a fair hearing without prejudgment;
4. State that the justice or judge denies
5. Explain the reasons for dismissing a complaint;
6. Explain why the commission chose to enter
into an agreement with a justice or judge pursuant to subsection 1 of NRS
(Added to NRS by 1997, 1093)
In the meantime, Judge Bonaventure is about to
become even more famous, and his 28 year old son Joe Bonaventure is using
his father's fame to his own advantage in the upcoming race for Clark County
Justice Court. Even though Joe Bonaventure is fresh out of law school,
he and his dad think its time for him to have his own courtroom.
This rush to the bench inspired Las Vegas Review
Journal political columnist Jane Ann Morrison on Monday, September
13, to write:
Bonaventure lives in a crowded neighborhood called Deceptionland, where
he deceives voters and himself. Lest you think I'm talking about Daddy
Joe the judge, I am not. I'm talking about Kid Joe, the wannabe Las Vegas
justice of the peace who came out ahead of seven more experienced attorneys
in Tuesday's primary by pretending to be his daddy, the most recognized
District Court judge in Clark County."
I'm not good at taking abuse
when I'm completely right. Nor can I sit silent after being ignored for
twenty-eight months. After looking at the younger Joe Bonaventure's website,
mailers, and yard signs that did not differentiate him in any way from
his about-to-become-even-more-famous dad, I felt I had to take action -
again. I couldn't stop myself from becoming an even bigger pain in the
ass, and on September 24, I authored another complaint, this time to Nevada
Secretary of State Dean Heller, and to Nevada Attorney General Brian Sandoval:
Whom It May Concern:
by the name of "Joe Bonaventure" is currently a candidate for Clark County
Justice of the Peace 9. On his website - http://jbforjp.com/, mailers,
and posters it simply says: "Elect Joe Bonaventure Justice of the Peace."
No where does it show his photo, identify him as "Junior," or state that
this is not the famous Judge Joe Bonaventure who is about to preside over
the nationally televised re-trial of the Binion case.
to NRS 293.2565, the actions of "Joe Bonaventure" are illegal and he should
be required to clarify his identity so as not to deceive voters on Election
293.2565 Use of given names, surnames and nicknames on ballot; use of additional
criteria to distinguish between candidates having same or similar surnames.
Except as otherwise provided in subsection 2, in any election regulated
by this chapter, the name of a candidate printed on a ballot may be the
given name and surname of the candidate or a contraction or familiar form
of his given name followed by his surname. A nickname of not more than
10 letters may be incorporated into the name of a candidate. The nickname
must be in quotation marks and appear immediately before the surname of
the candidate. A nickname must not indicate any political, economic, social
or religious view or affiliation and must not be the name of any person,
living or dead, whose reputation is known on a statewide, nationwide or
worldwide basis, or in any other manner deceive a voter regarding the person
or principles for which he is voting.
Within minutes of my filing the complaint, the
Vegas SUN scooped all other media by reporting:
said he believes the failure is a deliberate attempt to deceive voters
and violates a Nevada statute governing the candidates who have the same
or similar names. "I'm seeing a pattern of arrogance by this family," he
said. "His (Judge Bonaventure's) son appears to be ignoring the NRS under
the umbrella of his dad."
Immediately following my filing the complaint
against the younger Joe Bonaventure, he tried to lie his way out of trouble,
something I hope he didn't learn from his dad. "Bonaventure,
28, said that references to his degree from the William S. Boyd School
of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and being a "lifelong Nevadan"
distinguish him from his father," according
to the SUN story.
After I read that he "distinguished" himself from
his dad, I went back and looked at Joe's website http://jbforjp.com/
and other campaign materials to see where he made a "reference to his degree,"
or included a biography. He didn't! Also, as far as being a "lifelong Nevadan,"
aside from his dad's Brooklyn accent, nobody knows where Joe the elder
was born. In other words, the website, signs, and mailers are intentionally
meant to deceive voters into thinking they are voting for the dad.
But that's not all that was left in the Bonaventure
bag of tricks. A judge is not supposed to become involved in political
campaigns, but that didn't stop old Joe from helping his kid by telling
reporters that his son is "qualified" to be a Justice of the Peace even
though the ink hasn't had time to dry on his diploma. Also, there's a little
of whether Sandra Murphy's attorney should be helping Bonaventure's son
win the election by co-hosting a fundraiser?
And, like father, like son, the dad was
less than truthful also when asked if he was aware of my complaint. On
Sept. 23, 2004, the esteemed jurist told
the LV Review-Journal: "'I
am completely unaware of any proceedings,' Bonaventure said. 'I thought
this was a dead issue.'"
His former law clerk Joe Lasso also told a reporter,
complaint was dismissed."
Well, if Cannon 2: "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," along with the judge's
involvement in his son's political future isn't enough to inspire him to
recuse, nothing will!
Meanwhile, in two weeks, "It's Show Time!" The
satellite trucks are already setting up outside the courthouse. Then, three
weeks later, "It's Show Time" again when Election Day arrives and the name
"Joe Bonaventure" is placed before the uninformed voters.
Are the defendants going to be penalized because of the commission's
failure to do their job in a timely manner? Is this a violation of the
defendant's constitutional rights? What happens if the commission waits
until after the trial and rules the judge was biased? Is the commission
negligent if they fail to rule in the twenty-nine months leading up to
trial? And, is this writer negligent for talking about this mess?
I don't know if they're innocent or guilty, but
after all this, I can only hope that justice prevails and Sandra Murphy
and Richard Tabish get a fair trial the second time around. If not, thanks
to the procrastination of the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline,
they certainly have grounds for another appeal.
EDITOR'S NOTE: If Steve Miller is not in jail for contempt of court,
he'll be on CNN this Friday night. "NewsNight with Aaron Brown"
hits the road September 27 through October 1 to look at issues that matter
to voters living in the West. On Friday, October 1: Las Vegas, Nevada guests
include AmericanMafia.com columnist Steve Miller, Las Vegas Mayor
Oscar Goodman, and Las Vegas CityLife Crime & Punishment writer
Cathy Scott. "NewsNight"
airs on CNN Monday through Friday at 10 PM EDT, 7 PM PDT.
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