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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:

Jan Jones' Deliverance
Winning a small moral victory can be bittersweet

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
December 13, 2004

Jones' opponent, then-councilman Steve Miller, was someone a lot of powerful people loved to hate... It was Miller who brought down former mayor Ron Lurie and the city manager; Miller who proposed opening competition to the sole cable television network in town, operated by Brian Greenspun, who owns the newspaper, the Las Vegas Sun. And it was Miller who attempted to halt expansion of Arizona Charlie's Hotel and Casino into the suburbs, running afoul of the Becker family, influential hotel and real estate developers. With a collective sigh of relief at the election outcome, prominent citizens of Las Vegas are praising Her Honor's potential for governance. - LOS ANGELES TIMES, July 8, 1991

In the present case, we conclude that the evidence Miller presented to the district court is sufficient to support a jury finding that Jones acted with actual malice in publishing the flier... We conclude that based upon this evidence, a jury could reasonably find that Jones acted with a reckless disregard for the truth in publishing the statement at issue.- OPINION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEVADA - MILLER v. JONES, December 29, 1998

LAS VEGAS - On a memorable day in 1991, I walked down Fremont Street with sixty thousand dollars in one hundred-dollar bills stuffed in my pockets. Six hundred, one hundred-dollar bills weigh over three pounds and bulge out of pockets conspicuously. I needed to get off the street to avoid being robbed. Little did I know at the time that the actual robbery would take place two months later.

I rushed over to my accountant's office on East Sahara and spread the loot out on his desk. The late Carl Apple who volunteered as my campaign finance director, was aghast at the fact that casinos could legally make such large cash political donations in Nevada. He immediately began making photocopies of the bills to record the serial numbers for later inclusion in my campaign contribution report. He also remarked how easy it would be for a dishonest politician to steal the money without reporting it. I then rushed to the bank to deposit all the cash into my campaign account.

Earlier that day, I met with Bob Stupak at Vegas World. Bob was a big supporter of my mayoral campaign. He invited me to take a drive over to Casino Center to see some of his buddies.

Our first stop was the Binion's Horseshoe Club. Bob and I ran into Jack Binion near the cashier's cage where Bob ask Jack if he would chip in to help me win the Mayor's seat against my then-opponent, auto dealer Jan Jones. Jack immediately ordered the lady in the cage to count out twenty-thousand in hundred dollar bills. I stuffed the roll into my pants pocket.


We then walked over to Herb Paster's office at the Golden Goose. Herb went to his safe and counted out fifteen thousand in hundred dollar bills. I put them into my sport coat pocket.

On to the El Cortez where Jackie Gaughn told his secretary to bring up $5,000 in hundred dollar bills. I put the loot in my shirt pocket.

Our last stop was the Lady Luck where Andy Tompkins presented me with the final cash of the day; another roll of hundred dollar bills totaling twenty-thousand dollars. I stuffed the roll into my remaining coat pocket and we cautiously walked the two blocks to Bob's car.

Back at Vegas World, not to be outdone, Bob scribbled out a personal check for twenty-one thousand dollars made out to the Committee to Elect Steve Miller. Altogether, Stupak was personally responsible for raising eighty-one thousand dollars in campaign contributions in less than two hours. What a great start to my campaign!

As the week progressed, more checks arrived in the mail including $7,500 from Steve Wynn, $15,000 from Circus Circus, $7,500 from the Frontier, $7,500 from the Howard Hughes Corporation, and dozens for lessor amounts. Amazingly, I had not requested money from any of these entities. The total I raised that first week totaled over a quarter million dollars!

Then when the timing couldn't be better, I was named "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada by the readers of the Review-Journal. This was followed by the "Humanitarian of the Year" award from Goodwill Industries presented at a $100 per plate dinner at the Alexis Park Hotel attended by almost every prominent person in town. But my biggest thrill was when I received the endorsement of Las Vegas' most popular Mayor, Oran Gragson. It looked like I was on my way even though I'd spent the past four years being the city's biggest pain in the ass.

Four-term former Las Vegas Mayor Oran K. Gragson
endorsed Steve's candidacy for Mayor in March 1991

With all the polls showing me with a commanding lead over Jones who was outspending me by two to one, and with the overwhelming generosity of the downtown casinos, it looked to every political pundent like I was about to become the next Mayor of Las Vegas. But Ms. Jones had a dirty little trick stuffed up her sleeve, a trick that lowered the bar for every Nevada election ever since.

Following a blitz of TV, radio, billboard, direct mail, and newspaper advertisements touting Steve Miller as the best thing since sliced bread, it was clearly looking as though Jan Jones would wind up as just another blip on the political radar screen. But to my dismay the lights were burning in the back room of her campaign headquarters on Alta Drive through the nights leading up to the last week of the campaign.

Jones and her minions were huddling -- trying to find a way to turn my fortunes around and startle the local political world with an upset eleventh-hour victory on the coming Tuesday. She found her answer in the form of a long-forgotten newspaper story.

In 1987, my first year on the City Council, my then-sixteen year old daughter without my consent paid $4,000 for her first car; a bright red 1977 Porsche 924 that had been totaled in a collision and slapped back together. She made the purchase from a less than trustworthy classmate.  It was to transport her and her 15 year old sister to high school. Within days she creased the left door against a post in the school parking lot. She took the junker to a discount body shop in Meadows Village. That afternoon a shop employee called my home to report that upon dismantling the door, a baggy containing what he described as a "white powdery substance" fell out. Later that day when my daughter informed me of the call, I immediately notified the police (though I now regret doing so).

The next morning, an unfriendly sounding police officer called to say he searched the entire car and the "evidence had been removed." That the body shop mechanic at the instruction of a family member disposed of it the previous day, and I had "wasted" his time. I told him I was grateful that nothing was found. I then quizzed my daughter and she explained that when the mechanic asked if he should put the item aside to be picked up, she told him that it was not hers and she didn't care what he did with it.

It was never determined what the alleged substance was, and the case was closed. However, a police officer leaked the information to a reporter who wrote a short but accurate story about the incident on page 27 of the LV SUN. Nothing further was mentioned of the incident until the 1991 mayoral election.

Now it was four years later and Jan Jones was desperate to be mayor. She had located the story and was secretly concocting a way to use it against me during the last five days of the campaign -- a time too late for me to respond.

In order for the old newspaper story to damage me, it would be necessary for Jones to change its content. She cut fifty-six words from the copyrighted article to suit her needs. The words she edited out told of how I had called the police. To make matters appear worse, Jones then shamelessly added her own new headline, "Cocaine found in car Miller was driving."

Jones republished the altered newspaper story in her TV ads and direct mail advertisements. It seemed like the TV ad was playing every five minutes on all 140 cable channels. She also mailed the altered story to every registered voter in Las Vegas. She showed no consideration for my teenage daughter's well being with her false accusation.

The new headline she called a "highlight," along with the editing fit into her obvious scheme -- to portray me or my daughters as having been caught by police using or carrying drugs. She ran her ads for five days even after my attorney Sam Harding demanded she cease. Her ads aired four years after the Porsche was sold. My three kids, who were then attending college, were devastated when their friends saw Jones' ads referring to their first car. Some of their classmates even accused them of being "dopers" or the daughters of a "doper!"

Seeing a defamation suit on the horizon, Jones crafted a hasty last minute retraction and apology. I received her missive via fax on Monday at 11 AM, less than twenty hours before the election polls were to open the following day. Harding immediately demanded that she call a press conference and make her retraction and apology public - Jones refused. Sam also demanded that she pull her TV ads off the air immediately - Jones also refused and the ads continued torturing my family and I for another fourteen hours. My campaign yard signs began being removed from in front of homes throughout the city.

Election Day dawned, and my family visited the polling places to shake hands and pass out fliers as we had done at my previous, successful election. This time it only took moments for us to realize that something horrible had happened to my reputation.

Numbers of people turned their backs on my volunteers, my wife, my daughters, or me as we wore our "Believe in Steve" T-shirts. Others refused to shake my hand. I felt like an outcast!

Jones' scheme had apparently worked like a charm -- no one wanted an accused dope addict or drug courier as his or her next mayor. She won the election by a landslide and my political ambitions were permanently killed. I sued Jones for defamation.

During the next two years, we watched as Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones was toasted in the nation's capitol as a possible future Vice President, or US Senator. Flattered, but against her handler's advice, in 1993, she decided to run for Nevada governor to get a head start ascending her political spiral. During the heated race, then-Governor Bob Miller (no relation) alluded to the 1991 mayoral campaign when he made this statement about Jones in the November 5, 1993 Las Vegas SUN: "It's apparent she's willing to run a negative gutter campaign." "The important thing here is the fact that the mayor would besmirch the reputation of any person for her own personal political gain."

After Governor Miller's words, Jones lost her first bid for higher office and her political spiral began a rapid decent.

The next thing to squelch Jones' haughty political ambitions came in June 1998, when the Nevada Supreme Court heard my defamation case and issued a nineteen page ruling in my favor. Shortly thereafter, political columnist Jon Ralston wrote, "For Steve Miller, who lost to Jones in the 1991 mayoral contest and has pursued her with a Javert-like zeal ever since, to be the agent of her political demise would be too sweet for him and too bitter a pill for Her Honor to swallow."

In 1998, Jones ran for governor a second time. In November, her opponent Kenny Guinn once again quoted Governor Miller's "besmirch" statement in campaign mailers along with these two statements pertaining to my defamation case that were made by Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Springer: "Jones showed a reckless disregard for the truth," and, "It looks like libel per se to me."

Jones lost her second bid for higher office. Her political demise inspired Ralston to author "The Anointed One," a true life novel about the election of Kenny Guinn. On page 207, Ralston writes: "Before the (Jones) ad campaign began, though, Guinn tried to highlight a Jones negative, while at the same time buffing his image as a man of integrity. The state Ethics Commission met September 17 to consider more charges against Jones, this time filed (again) by her nemesis, ex-City Councilman Steve Miller, that she (as Mayor of Las Vegas) had behaved unethically by touting gaming in Detroit, while owning stock in two of the casino companies that had applied for licenses there. It was the ninth time Jones had appeared before the panel (two times at Steve Miller's request). And although she was once again exonerated, only three days later Guinn unveiled a three-point plan on ethics."

On page 216, Ralston describes Guinn putting the last nail in Jones' political coffin: "(Guinn's campaign manager Pete) Ernaut picked up the phone on the airplane and called the campaign's reliable research expert, Denice Miller. He told her to find everything that had ever been said about Jones being unethical and to fax it all to (Sig) Rogich's office in Las Vegas."

Denise Miller (no relation) immediately called me and requested my Jones's ethics files be faxed to Rogich. I complied. Rogich instantaneously published a mailer and produced a TV spot quoting Chief Justice Springer's and Governor Bob Miller's statements in regard to Jones' tactics during the 1991 mayoral election. The rest is history. After losing another gubernatorial bid, Jan Jones retired from politics at the end of her second term as Mayor of Las Vegas and went to work for Harrah's promoting casinos outside Nevada.

Then, after ten years of stalling by her attorneys and hundreds of thousands in legal expenses, on May 27, 2001, the damages portion of MILLER vs. JONES finally went to the jury. By then, my story was all but forgotten, my daughters had become successful young women, and the jury learned that I had received many personal blessings from being out of politics. After 2-1/2 days of deliberation, the jury felt little sympathy and rendered an 8 to 2 verdict granting me nothing.

The jury forewoman who voted in favor of Jones said, "Mr. Miller's name should be cleared from any connection with cocaine, along with his family." A juror who sided with me said, "I'm disappointed that she was not held accountable. She's ultimately responsible for what took place." Another juror who voted in my favor stated, "I would have awarded Steve Miller a public apology from the Jones camp, paid for by the Jones camp."

Michael Cherry, the lower court judge, offered a little solace after the four-week televised trial when he told several attorneys, "If Steve Miller couldn't win his case, then defamation cases in this state are un-winable."

Another minor solace came when Jones accepted a position promoting competitive-to-Nevada casinos, thereby vindicating me for filing my Detroit ethics complaint against her.

But, because I had received a bittersweet moral victory in the Nevada Supreme Court -- one that will be cited again and again as case law -- I decided not to appeal the lower court's verdict and went back to enjoying my life. Unfortunately, the trial that is most remembered was the televised one, and people usually think a victory only occurs when money changes hands. So I know my good name will never be fully restored in the minds of some Sin City denizens.

Also, since the trial, no other political figure has dared file a defamation lawsuit in Nevada, and the standards of conduct for local political candidates has hit rock bottom. Today, because of the standard set by Jones, and my retribution less lawsuit, almost anything goes thereby discouraging many good people from running for public office.

Was my lawsuit worth all the aggravation and expense? No! Would I do it again? Never! Did it discourage dirty political campaign practices? Not!

For me, after ten years of fighting to regain my reputation, I learned three important lessons about my town. 1. Las Vegans have very short memories and nobody around here gives a damn about reputations anyway. 2. Think twice before calling the police. 3. Don't expect a Nevada jury to award monetary damages in a defamation case.

Jan Jones also learned an important lesson: Always tell the truth because lies can come back and ruin a promising political career.

Fourteen years after the fact, life is still very sweet for me, and I wish Ms. Jones well for finally swallowing that bitter pill. 


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