Schneider, Tarkanian both on hand as libel trial begins

Voters picked the winner in the state Senate race between Mike Schneider and Danny Tarkanian back in 2004. But the ensuing legal fight spawned from the nasty campaign will be decided by a jury five years later.

Danny Tarkanian, son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, sued Schneider after he lost the race. He claims Schneider defamed and libeled him during the campaign by accusing him of creating companies to defraud the elderly, among other things.

Both men appeared in District Court today for the opening of the trial, which is expected to last about a week.

Schneider, the incumbent Democrat, won the 2004 District 11 race against Tarkanian, who ran as a Republican in a heavily Democratic Las Vegas district.

Schneider’s attorney Nelson Cohen said the lawsuit is merely “sour grapes” from a candidate upset over losing.

Gus Flangas, Tarkanian’s attorney, told the jury that Schneider’s campaign went beyond standard rhetoric when it linked his client to criminal activity.

Schneider, who testified for more than an hour and half today, said he relied on campaign staff and a private investigator, David Groover, for information to be used against Tarkanian.

He said he only approved three of the four campaign fliers that his campaign mailed and often saw them for the first time when they were delivered to his mailbox.

But he stood by the accusations made in the fliers.

During his testimony, Schneider answered many questions with a simple “correct” or “no.” He was the first witness in the case and was called to take the stand by Tarkanian’s attorney.

Schneider said it’s common for state Senate candidates to hire campaign staff to do opposition research.

At one point, he told the jury that he didn’t need hard evidence to make an accusation.

In campaign fliers and on a local news show, Schneider blasted Tarkanian for acting as the resident agent for several companies that were later investigated for illegal telemarketing scams that victimized the elderly, Flangas said.

Schneider also suggested that Tarkanian turned “state’s evidence” to save himself in a criminal investigation.

Flangas said all the accusations were blatantly false, as were the accusations by Schneider that Tarkanian socialized with illegal bookmakers and that the state bar suspended his law license.

Tarkanian was a registered agent for several telemarketing companies that were indicted for fraud, but he claimed in later interviews that he was merely an attorney who did legal work on behalf of the companies and knew nothing of the fraud.

Tarkanian, comes from a well-known family. His mother, Lois Tarkanian, is a Las Vegas city councilwoman.

He ran for secretary of state in 2006 but lost to Democrat Ross Miller. Many of the same accusations surfaced during the 2006 campaign but Tarkanian didn’t sue Miller.

Contact reporter David Kihara at dkihara@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039.

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