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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

Like Father, Like Son
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
September 27, 2004
                   Joe Bonaventure                                      Joe Bonaventure

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 to why?

In my once-secret April 16, 2002 complaint, I stated:

Clark 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."

Judge 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 case

At 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.

The following statement is contained in the book that the Judge, Prosecutors, and Law Clerk autographed:

"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."

Following 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.

According 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.

According 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.

Judge 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.

Even 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.

His 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.

Steve Miller

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:

Judge 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.

1.    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.

2.    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.

3.    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.

4.    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 is misleading.

5.    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.

6.    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."

7.     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.

8.    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]

Steve Miller.

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 Rudin, Ted 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 five simultaneously.

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 Tabish

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:

FOR 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:

FOR 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.- SM
Nevada Ethics Commission is Intoxicated With Their Power
Daily Sparks Tribune
December 5, 1999
By Steve Miller
I 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!
June 20, 1996
Judge: Ethics complaints can't be sealed
By Cy Ryan
CARSON 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 STORY


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 proceedings;
3. Explain the right of the justice or judge to a fair hearing without prejudgment;
4. State that the justice or judge denies the allegations;
5. Explain the reasons for dismissing a complaint; and
6. Explain why the commission chose to enter into an agreement with a justice or judge pursuant to subsection 1 of NRS 1.468.
(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: "Joe 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:

To Whom It May Concern:

A person by the name of "Joe Bonaventure" is currently a candidate for Clark County Justice of the Peace 9. On his website -, 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.

According 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 Day.

NRS 293.2565 Use of given names, surnames and nicknames on ballot; use of additional criteria to distinguish between candidates having same or similar surnames.
1. 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.

Steve Miller

Within minutes of my filing the complaint, the Las Vegas SUN scooped all other media by reporting: Miller 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 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 question 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, "The 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 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.

* If you would like to receive Steve's frequent E-Briefs about Las Vegas' scandals, click here: Steve Miller's Las Vegas E-Briefs

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