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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:

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

  Judge 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 allegedly occurred 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 the Judge.

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:


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 role behind 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 death.

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