Publisher settles simmering dispute over book with Vegas mayor
June 11, 2003
LAS VEGAS — A well-known New York publishing company has settled a simmering dispute with Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman over a book that alleged he attended a coffee shop meeting in which the assassination of a federal judge was plotted.
In the agreement reached Tuesday, Farrar, Straus and Giroux apologized to Goodman for the passage in “Positively Fifth Street,” a recent book about high-stakes poker and a high-profile murder trial that hit No. 7 on The New York Times’ best seller list.
The company also agreed to publish a full-page advertisement with the apology in The New York Times Book Review on July 6, and remove the offending passage in any future printings of the book.
James McManus, the book’s author, wrote that Goodman, a former mob attorney, was part of a cabal that hired a hit man for $50,000 to kill Texas U.S. District Court judge John Wood — “or so the lore has it.”
Goodman learned about the book’s claims early last month and told a local newspaper that McManus was the “biggest jerk to ever visit Las Vegas to play poker.”
Goodman said Tuesday at a City Hall news conference that once he got his hands on the book, “I began to seethe. I stewed and stewed.”
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The mayor finally called lawyer Anthony Michael Glassman, a former federal prosecutor and First Amendment expert in Los Angeles, to explore legal action.
Glassman, sitting by the mayor’s side Tuesday, said the mayor had a case against the publisher and McManus. Glassman said McManus had shown a reckless disregard for the truth in penning the “scurrilous passage.”
“We were going to go forward and sue,” Glassman said. “We had a good chance of success. There was no basis whatsoever for this passage to be in the book.”
Glassman said Wood’s death had been investigated, and there was never a link to Goodman, who represented Texas drug kingpin Jimmy Chagra. Wood presided over Chagra’s trial until he was shot to death.
The case ended in a mistrial. Chagra went free, “and young Oscar Goodman’s reputation was made in the bargain,” according to the book.
Reached at his Chicago-area home Tuesday, McManus declined to comment on where he obtained the information, citing a confidentiality agreement with Goodman.
The publisher’s apology letter only says, “We hope that no reader misunderstood the passage to constitute an assertion of fact about Mayor Goodman.”
Goodman, who said he hasn’t read the book, said McManus “made up” the story. The mayor said the author never bothered to check it with him.
“You know if they had a source and the source had any reliability at all that I wouldn’t be here today, I’d be involved in litigation,” the mayor said. “Apparently there was no vetting of the story whatsoever. They just let it go right through without picking it up.”
Glassman said his client had been vindicated, and “I’m pleased that the publisher has moved so quickly to do the right thing.”
Neither Goodman nor McManus would say whether the settlement required any payment.
McManus a poet, novelist and teacher, said he’s happy with the resolution and pleased with his book, which had an initial printing of 75,000 copies and received favorable reviews in major newspapers. It is currently 18th on the New York Times’ nonfiction list.
Elisabeth Calamari, a spokeswoman for Farrar, Straus and Giroux, said there were no plans for a second printing of the book.
“Positively Fifth Street” chronicles McManus’ performance in the 2000 World Series of Poker at Binion’s Horseshoe casino and the murder trial that followed the slaying of gambling figure Ted Binion.
McManus, who won nearly $250,000 for finishing fifth in the poker tournament, said the incident won’t deter him from writing about Sin City again in his next novel.
“Viva Las Vegas,” he said. “I love Las Vegas.”