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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:

Bad Judgment

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
February 24, 2003

 Judge Joseph Bonaventure autographs book about a case that's still active in his court

   Rick Tabish and Sandra Murphy

Las Vegas Judge Joseph Bonaventure may have violated Canon 5 of the Nevada Code of Judicial Ethics: "Not maintaining the dignity appropriate to judicial office."

He may have also violated 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."

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 in downtown Vegas. While there, the Judge, Prosecutors David Roger and David Wall, and even the Judge's law clerk Joe Lasso, happily autographed dozens of books entitled "Murder in Sin City," a paperback telling one side of the story of the death of former Horseshoe owner Lonnie "Ted" Binion - a side that heavily favored the current owners of the Horseshoe.

At a time when the Defendants in a case under his jurisdiction are actively seeking an appeal before the Nevada Supreme Court, and knowing the possibility that the Court will remand 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. Therefore, he, his Law Clerk, and the Prosecutors should have absolutely refused to accept an 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 on page 284 of the book that the Judge, Prosecutors, and Law Clerk willfully 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" where the judge signed "Judge Bonaventure" to dozens of books, a spokesperson said his participation was an unplanned coincidence. According to the spoksperson, the Judge along with Roger, Wall, and Lasso were just passing through the casino when the Judge was stopped and asked to sign a few books. It must also have been a "coincidence" that both Roger and Wall were planning to run for higher office and that the Horseshoe is a well known political campaign contributor. In November 2002, David Roger was elected District Attorney, and David Wall was elected District Court Judge.

Before the Judge arrived, Becky Behnen the producer of the event was heard saying the Judge was expected "at any minute."  Therefore it was obvious that the Judge's presence was premeditated and far from "accidental" as his representative disingenuously claimed in media interviews.

Becky Behnen, the estranged sister of the late Ted Binion, currently owns the Horseshoe. The relationship between the Binion siblings was strained and bitter prior to Ted's untimely death that was initially diagnosed to be the result of a lethal overdose of narcotics.

In 1996, 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. It also bears mentioning that in a 1997 police report, Ted Binion accused Becky's son Benny Behnen of a drive-by shooting at his former Palomino Lane estate. Benny was the subject of an IRS lien that was filed on January 30, 2003.

Following Binion's funeral, Becky Behnen encouraged 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.

Had Murphy who was Binion's live-in girlfriend 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.

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 is also ludicrous to say that attorneys would tolerate such an act occuring in their presence especially when police officers were standing by just outside the door of the conference room.

Judge Bonaventure should have avoided promoting and publicizing what became known as the "Fellatio book," a book that demonized litigants currently in his court. His book signing action showed a clear bias in an ongoing case, but the local media took little interest - as usual.

Even if Judge Bonaventure claims that he was not aware of the sexual act described on page 284, as a long-time member of the judiciary he should have done his due diligence and reviewed the content before adding his autograph thereby endorsing the book's veracity. Furthermore, he did this at a promotional event held in a casino owned by the sister of the man the Defendants are accused of killing, while the same Defendants are appealing their conviction and may be granted a new trial in his court.

Murphy and Tabish are basing their appeals on purported judicial and jury misconduct, and a recently disclosed FBI affidavit telling of a 1999 federal wiretap possibly implicating others including Binion family members in the casino owner's death.

Also of interest was that immediately following the trial, the majority of the jury members were seen at the Horseshoe having dinner with the Behnen family who had paid several witnesses up to $20,000 each to testify.

An attendee at the Horseshoe book signing described Becky Behnen and Judge Bonaventure's actions: "I was the second one in line and when Becky (Behnen) arrived, she said 'Is the judge here yet?' and when he did arrive, he was halfway to the door when he was overcome by autograph seekers. He stayed for approximately 15 minutes outside the room until Becky said the autograph party was about to start, then he came in and just stood around. The book's author had thanked the judge for coming but the judge didn't sit down with him. The author said he saved him a book, but the judge said 'no thanks.' Becky Behnen signed my copy after the judge signed."

Another book about the case, "Death in the Desert" by Cathy Scott, is considered to be objective and not favoring either the prosecution or the defense. Nonetheless, Judge Bonaventure did not "coincidentally" appear at the book signing party held for Ms. Scott.

According to Canon 2, "A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."  By his actions, Las Vegas Judge Joseph Bonaventure is thumbing his nose at the Judicial Canons.

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