Monday, Aug. 3, 2009 | 12:41 p.m.
State Sen. Mike Schneider today agreed to pay $150,000 in damages to settle a defamation lawsuit brought by his 2004 election challenger, Danny Tarkanian.
In a verdict late Friday night, a Clark County District Court jury awarded Tarkanian, son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian, $50,000 in damages. Schneider has agreed not to appeal the verdict.
Jurors were scheduled to hear Schneider, a real estate consultant, testify today as to his finances then decide on punitive damages. The deal was reached prior to the hearing.
Tarkanian’s attorney, Gus Flangas, said the verdict also disproves the allegations of criminal behavior Schneider raised in televised debates and in campaign fliers.
The 47-year-old Tarkanian filed the lawsuit in March 2005 after losing the election.
Jurors spoke to the attorneys after the hearing. A few of them said the televised October 2004 debate on Sun columnist Jon Ralston’s show “Face to Face” was the most important piece of evidence.
Jurors reviewed the tape of the debate and the transcript of Schneider's testimony during three hours of deliberations on Friday.
Schneider accused Tarkanian of setting up telemarketing companies that were later found to be running scams and that he turned “state’s evidence” against the telemarketers to avoid being prosecuted.
Tarkanian practiced civil law until 1995 and admitted he helped set up the companies but had no involvement in the day-to-day operations of any of them. He said he was not aware that any of the companies were already engaged in illegal activity at the time that he helped to set up them.
Leif Reid, a former assistant U.S. Attorney, testified that Tarkanian was not part of the investigation into the companies.
Schneider, D-Las Vegas, was defending the heavily Democratic District 11 he had represented since 1997 from Tarkanian, a Republican who said he moved into the district before the election because he thought it was vulnerable.
Schneider won the election by nearly 2,000 votes, or about 7 percentage points.
Schneider testified that he relied on his investigator and campaign team for the veracity of the information.
His attorney, Nelson Cohen, declined to comment.
Flangas said he believes the jury’s decision does not redefine First Amendment rights of free speech but just that candidates should verify information during campaigns.
“It probably will have an effect on campaigns because you might want to think the message sent (by the jury) is ‘be truthful,’” he said. “There comes a point in time where spin is no longer spin. It becomes a false statement.”
CORRECTION: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Leif Reid's name as well as his title. | (August 5, 2009)