LAS VEGAS - The judge in the Ted Binion murder case sharply criticized a lawyer representing Montana contractor Rick Tabish for writing a letter outlining questionable legal strategies.
"This is why the public hates lawyers, why lawyers have a bad rap," Clark County District Judge Joseph Bonaventure told lawyer Joseph Caramagno during a contentious hearing Wednesday. "It's because of tactics like this."
Bonaventure was enraged about a two-page note Caramagno wrote to Tabish's brother earlier this month, which was contained in a motion filed by co-counsel J. Tony Serra.
In the letter, Caramagno detailed a plan to hire a high-profile lawyer to goad Bonaventure into a shouting match when Tabish is sentenced for stealing Binion's silver.
"You passed the bar in 2003," Bonaventure told Caramagno. "You presume to know me? You know my 30-year career? You dare assume what I am going to think?"
Caramagno theorized in the letter that if Bonaventure made inflammatory statements about Tabish during sentencing, then Tabish could use the shouting match to appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Bonaventure said Wednesday that Caramagno's strategy was based on deception, bad lawyering, and that such deception goes against lawyers' professional code of conduct.
"A lawyer is to advocate strongly for his client, not conjure up schemes to undercut our system," the judge said. "I'll leave this matter to our state bar to decide, without any involvement from me. Let them do their job, policing attorneys that seem to forget the rules of good lawyering."
Tabish and co-defendant, Sandy Murphy, were accused of killing casino heir Ted Binion in 1998 as part of a plot to steal Binion's fortune that included a cache of buried silver. Their initial murder convictions were overturned on appeal.
In their retrial, a jury acquitted the pair on murder charges in November, but convicted them of the silver theft.
Tabish and Murphy face a possible sentence ranging from probation to 21 years in prison. A sentencing hearing scheduled Friday has been delayed.
Serra, who was the lead lawyer during Tabish's second trial, announced last week that he was withdrawing from the case because of Caramagno's plans to remove Bonaventure. Caramagno has denied Serra's claims.
Serra filed a motion to withdraw Tuesday and attached Caramagno's letter. Caramagno has said Serra violated attorney-client privilege by filing the letter with the court.
But in court Wednesday, Caramagno apologized to Bonaventure and said he regretted the letter.
"I feel publicly humiliated," Caramagno said. "I know I have no credibility with your honor. I have no credibility with any judge in this courthouse."
Despite Bonaventure's remarks, Caramagno said he plans to stay on as Tabish's lawyer and hopes to redeem himself within the Clark County legal community.