Richard Brian / Special to the Sun
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | 8:22 p.m.
State Sen. Mike Schneider took the stand in his own defense today during the first day of testimony in a civil lawsuit filed by Danny Tarkanian, his opponent in the 2004 Senate campaign.
Tarkanian filed the defamation lawsuit in March 2005, claiming Schneider committed libel in campaign fliers and slander in a television interview and to voters in person.
An eight-member jury, plus two alternates, will determine if the campaign accusations were true or false and could award damages.
The lawsuit claims the reputation and legal practice of Tarkanian, the son of former UNLV men’s basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and current Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, suffered as a result of the negative campaign material.
Both men were seeking the District 11 Senate seat in 2004. Schneider, the Democratic candidate, has represented the district since 1996.
Tarkanian ran as a Republican and has said that the negative ads began when it appeared he could win the heavily Democratic district.
According to court documents and Schneider’s testimony, his campaign team mailed fliers stating that Tarkanian, as a corporate attorney, set up 19 corporations that have since had their licenses revoked by the Nevada secretary of state. At least three of the companies were involved in telemarketing scams.
The fliers also stated that Tarkanian was under investigation by two separate grand juries and that he cooperated with investigators in a telemarketing fraud case to avoid prosecution.
Tarkanian’s lawyer, Gus Flangas, said his client was paid only to set up the companies and was never indicted or charged in those cases. He said the accusations about the grand juries and turning state’s evidence are completely false.
“He (Schneider) had a loose interpretation of the truth that made it an utter falsehood,” Flangas told the jury.
Schneider testified he only read one of the four fliers contested in the lawsuit and that he relied on his campaign staff, including a private investigator, that the information was accurate.
Schneider’s attorney, Nelson Cohen, said the suit is the result of Tarkanian losing the election.
“This was sour grapes,” he said. “What the plaintiff could not achieve in the campaign, he wants to achieve in the courtroom.”
The trial continues Wednesday morning and is expected to last up to five days.