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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:

Taxpayers defend Vegas mayor for
saying, "I'd like to whack the guy!"
Citizens exposed to paying judgment if mayor
loses multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
May 10, 2004

Former mob attorney-cum-Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is about to face the whims of a Clark County jury for accusing a Henderson resident of committing a crime, and then remarking, "I'd like to whack the guy!"

Two years ago, a local man told the FBI that he allegedly overheard a conversation on his cellular phone wherein two men said they were going to blow up Las Vegas. Though the threats could not be substantiated, the story went national. The mayor blew his stack. Goodman denounced the man for purportedly trying to hurt Las Vegas' image and damage our economy. That's when Goodman told a TV audience in typical mob parlance, "I'd like to whack the guy!"

The man he was referring to, Henderson resident Michael Hamdan, demanded an apology saying his reputation was injured. No apology followed, so Hamdan sued Goodman in his individual capacity for defamation of character. Hamdan did not include the City of Las Vegas as a party in his lawsuit, nor did his complaint include the mayor's official duties.

City-paid attorneys immediately filed a motion for dismissal which was denied by District Court Judge Michelle Leavitt. Then Carolyn Goodman, the mayor's wife, filed a motion to be excluded from personal financial exposure, in the event Hamdan prevailed, stating, "prior to Oscar B. Goodman making the statements which are the subject of the instant litigation, I did not consult with, discuss or have any other involvement in the same." Her motion also failed.

She doesn't have much to worry about though. If the city continues defending Goodman's actions, it will also be the city that pays any judgment Hamdan wins.

The Las Vegas SUN reported on June 30, 2003 that, according to the lawsuit, "Goodman 'made defamatory statements regarding the credibility, trustworthiness and reputation of plaintiff Michael Hamdan and did so under the color of state law.' "

"The suit seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory damages, saying the mayor 'damaged Hamdan's reputation in the community and excited derogatory opinions about him.' "

"Hamdan, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Lebanon, speaks Arabic. He said that on his cell phone he heard a man speaking Arabic (say), 'We are here in the city of corruption, the city of prostitutes and gamblers -- the unbelievers.' "

"He said the man also said: "They talk about freedom. We are going to hit them on the day of freedom." Hamdan interpreted that to mean an attack was planned for July 4, 2002."

"Hamdan says Goodman defamed him during interviews with local and national media after Hamdan reported the conversations," according to the SUN.

William P. Henry, senior litigation counsel for the city of Las Vegas, and Las Vegas City Attorney Bradford R. Jerbic are both serving as Goodman's defense attorneys in the defamation action saying his remarks were "privileged." Both highly skilled attorneys are working at Vegas taxpayer's expense.*

What makes this story fascinating is that the taxpayers are being asked to pay the bill for attorneys, and possibly stand good for a huge judgment in a personal defamation lawsuit, something unprecedented in Las Vegas' history. This inspires several questions:

Were Goodman's remarks part of his official duty? Is he receiving special treatment? Is there a double standard at Las Vegas City Hall?

In 1987, the Las Vegas Transit System, Inc. (LVTS) was found to be keeping the loosest set of books since Bugsy Siegal. At the time, I was serving as a Las Vegas City Councilman, and as a Clark County Regional Transportation Commissioner (RTC). The City Council assigned me the duty of auditing the city's transit bus system.

Within weeks it was discovered that the company that worked on contract for the RTC was not properly reporting its income and expenditures. In fact, there were so many holes in the Los Angeles based company's books that Marvin Leavitt, the former city Finance Director, told the council, "If skimming were to occur, it would be impossible to detect with the bookkeeping methods they use." He presented numerous ledgers where numbers were whited out and new amounts filled in. He also presented evidence that the city was being overcharged for fuel and repairs.

The following day, a headline appeared on the front page of the Las Vegas SUN: "Skim Cloud Darkens LVTS."

To keep the public informed, I held a press conference in my City Hall office. I also authored a newspaper Op-Ed  on the subject written at my City Hall desk. At the press conference, I was joined by Mr. Leavitt and his chief auditor Don Hanson, along with several LVTS employees who attested to having witnessed skimming. I recommended that the company's franchise be revoked.

Several weeks later, I became the subject of a personal defamation lawsuit filed by the president of LVTS. As was the case with Goodman, I was also named in my individual capacity, and the city was not named. I immediately did as Goodman would do 17 years later, I went to the City Attorney, George Ogilvie, to ask for assistance.

I explained that my press conference was based on information I  gathered in my official capacity, and the conference took place on city property during regular working hours with the assistance of high level city staff.

I was shocked when Ogilvie told me I acted "outside my scope of duty," that my position was part time, and the press conference occurred during hours I was not officially on duty, and therefore my statements were not "privileged."

He stated his office would protect me only in the event I was being sued for something I said from the dais during a posted meeting while on the record. Otherwise, I was not acting as a public official. In contrast, Goodman -- also a part time city employee -- made his comments about Hamdan at a TV station far from his City Hall office, and at a time outside normal working hours.

Obviously, in 2004, Henry and Jerbic disagree with their predecessor's decision. However they evidently did not check case law before riding to the rescue of Goodman on the backs of Sin City taxpayers.

Following Ogilvie's decision, my private attorney filed a motion before District Court Judge Thomas Foley to enjoin the City of Las Vegas in the lawsuit and force the city attorney to defend me. My attorney said I was on an official assignment and made appropriate comments from within my office at City Hall on city time about city business, so I deserved to be protected by my employer, the taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the judge agreed with Ogilvie, and I was forced to make a claim on my umbrella insurance policy that covered all my attorney fees and any judgment up to one million dollars. Meanwhile, the headlines stated, "Judge Rules Taxpayer's Should Not Pay Miller's Legal Bills." My attorney fees eventually amounted to over $300,000.

In 1990, LVTS' franchise was revoked. In 1992, their lawsuit was dismissed -- a small comfort after all the aggravation I endured.

Today, no one - other than myself - seems concerned about who is paying Goodman's legal bills, or who could get saddled paying for a possible judgment against him. A far different scenario than in 1987. But, the cost to the taxpayers will certainly be more than what my insurance paid over a decade ago.

Duping Vegas taxpayers is not my only concern. Hamdan's lawsuit could not come at a more inopportune time for Mayor Goodman. Granted, Goodman is currently embroiled in a nasty fight with the Nevada Commission on Ethics for doing favors for his sons, but that is not his main problem with this lawsuit.

Defamation of character lawsuits have unlimited latitude when it comes to questions that can be posed during depositions. Its common for Defendants in such actions to be asked a myriad of questions about their personal associations. In the case of Oscar Goodman, he is well known for refusing to disassociate himself from a number of his former criminal clients. This could be fodder for Mr. Hamdan's attorney to ask him embarrassing questions under oath, questions Goodman has avoided answering since he was elected in 1999. Questions such as why he hosted members of Nevada's notorious Black Book at his personal residence and at City Hall?

This process is fair because litigants in defamation actions always try to attack each other's credibility in one way or another, so the jury needs to know as much as possible about both litigants to make judgement and access possible damages.

Then there is that pesky FBI-IRS investigation of Goodman's former clients at the Crazy Horse Too strip joint. Indictments are expected later this year and its speculated that Goodman's two attorney sons -- who took over his criminal law practice -- could be enlisted to defend those indicted.

The mayor's sons could also defend their father at their own expense in the Hamdan case. However, if they did, their dad could be held personally liable for a possible judgment, something he is exempt from if the city continues defending him. Anyway, the city has a liability cap of only $50,000 to discourage such lawsuits. Its no wonder Henry and Jerbic are on the mayor's defense team, he appointed them to their jobs!

This brings to mind the whims of Vegas juries. In this gambling city, its not uncommon for trial juries to make some rather bizarre multi-million dollar judgments, especially when the subject of their deliberations is a well known person. If Goodman's name should somehow surface in the upcoming indictments, such a  revelation may come at a time when he's about to go to court with Hamdan, and having his name associated with members of organized crime just before the trial could possibly skew the jury into "whacking" the taxpayers for millions. Of course, all this could have been avoided long ago if Mr. Goodman had apologized to Mr. Hamdan for saying "I'd like to whack the guy!"

Maybe that's why the mayor looks so angry?

    LV Review Journal FRONT PAGE photo by Cariño Casas

Copyright © Steve Miller

*From the Clark County District Court Website:
Case  03-A-469438-C     Status  ACTIVE
Plaintiff  Hamdan, Michael,  Attorney  Marquiz, Craig A.
Defendant  Goodman, Oscar,  Attorney  Henry, William P.
Judge  Leavitt, Michelle  Dept.  12
Parties  0001 - P1     Hamdan, Michael     Yes
007437     Marquiz, Craig A.     Yes
0002 - D1     Goodman, Oscar     No
000101     Henry, William P.     Yes
001056     Jerbic, Bradford R.     Yes
000166     Byrnes, Jr., Philip R.     Yes
0003 - P     Hamdan, Doreen     Yes
007437     Marquiz, Craig A.     Yes
0004 - D     Goodman, Carolyn     No
004128     Palazzo, Timothy L.     Yes
(Highlights added by author)


Mr. Palazzo advised Court he believes parties are making good progress as to resolving issues as to Carolyn Goodman and he would request Motion to Dismiss be CONTINUED; COURT SO ORDERED.

Mr. Henry provided opposing counsel and Court with smaller copies of large blow-up posters detailing events which took place in this case. Mr. Henry presented lengthy review of history of case; Plaintiff intercepting cell phone conversation, Plaintiff contacting media and FBI's determination report was not credible. Mr. Henry reviewed alleged defamatory statements by Oscar Goodman for which Plaintiff brings a Section 1983 claim. Mr. Henry argued you need stigma plus, you need something else, i.e., harm to Plaintiff's reputation. Mr. Henry said there is no reference to facts as to how Plaintiff's rights were violated or which right was violated. Further argument by Mr. Henry that Mrs. Hamdan has nothing to do with this case. Mr. Henry argued statements of opinion are not actionable, are not defamatory and could be interpreted by a reasonable person as rhetorical hyperbole. Mr. Henry cited the New York Times Rule and argued there is no set of facts that can be found to be reckless disregard of the truth and after FBI's public report, Mayor Goodman was making a privileged statement. Further argument by Mr. Henry.

Court informed counsel it was not going to turn this into a Rule 56 motion; there is nothing outside the pleadings and counsel filed motion under 12(c). Mr. Henry responded he did not want the Court to consider anything outside the pleadings. Argument by Mr. Henry that Plaintiff Hamdan did everything he could to make himself a public figure.

Court requested Mr. Marquiz address why Mrs. Hamdan is in the case and also address negligent infliction of emotional distress cause of action. Mr. Marquiz responded intentional infliction of emotional distress applies also; statement Mayor Goodman made that Mr. Hamdan should be prosecuted for making a false claim is per se defamatory and a Section 1983 claim. Court noted there is still the stigma plus test Plaintiff has to meet. Mr. Marquiz responded all that is required is Plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated, his citizenship was challenged because of statements made around the time of his book. Mr. Marquiz argued statements caused damage to Plaintiff's reputation. Mr. Marquiz requested he be allowed additional time to submit a supplemental briefing.

Court informed Mr. Marquiz he should identify all the rights Defendants have violated; if you file a Section 1983 claim you should know what Federal rights were violated in the statements. Court instructed Mr. Marquiz to supplement with case law and identify Federal rights that were violated.

Court noted what the FBI reported was not a commentary on Plaintiff Hamdan, but that the results of their investigation was his report was not credible. Mr. Marquiz responded there is nothing from FBI that says his client provided any inaccurate information and his client got media assistance to get the FBI to talk to him and investigate, not to get attention for himself. Mr. Marquiz argued there is no evidence his client is anything other than a private person, he is not a public figure.

As to rhetorical hyperbole argument by Defendant's counsel, Mr. Marquiz said reasonable people could disagree that this was Mayor Goodman's opinion. Mr. Marquiz said Plaintiff set down claim and recovery in his complaint and Nevada is notice pleading. Mr. Marquiz said Plaintiff would request leave to amend to cure any issues as to whether he was a public person.

Mr. Marquiz referred Court's attention to 56F affidavit and noted it contained a detailed list of facts that were alleged against Defendant Goodman and Plaintiff did file Reply as to 56F motion which raised for the Court factual allegations. Mr. Marquiz said factual investigation would have to be conducted to determine whether these statements were opinion; Plaintiff believes these were per se defamatory and he has right to conduct discovery, because there are facts that reasonable people would disagree on. Mr. Marquiz argued this is a question for a jury, motion should be denied and parties allowed to do discovery.

Mr. Henry responded the Court has the facts before it in the complaint, no additional briefing is necessary. Mr. Henry argued there is no evidence in the record and this is a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Further argument by Mr. Henry who asked Court to consider dates pled into this complaint; this started with cell phone call on June 15, 2002, eight months after September 11th. Mr. Henry said Plaintiff Hamdan is someone who thrust themselves into the public arena, he made himself a public figure and all of these statements were privileged under the New York Times Rule.


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