Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun
Friday, Nov. 13, 2009 | 7:41 p.m.
Funerals are typically somber, reverent affairs.
But James “Bucky” Buchanan was not typically somber or reverent, and neither was his funeral held Friday afternoon at Palm Mortuary, 1325 N. Main St.
Buchanan, 74, whose list of clients ran the gamut — from the famous to the penniless — died Saturday evening after suffering a medical episode while driving his Ferrari near his home on Linden Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.
His funeral, though peppered with tears, was punctuated with laughter as family members, friends and colleagues recounted memories of the man everyone calls Bucky, whose sharp wit and unconventional style made him larger than life and seared him into the history of Las Vegas.
Clark County courts were effectively closed for afternoon business as the legal community gathered to bid farewell to one of its legends.
At the start of the service, state Sen. Dennis Nolan played the bagpipes as he led a dozen or so robed judges down the aisle to the front of the chapel.
The pews were packed with at least 200 mourners; those who couldn’t get a seat lined the walls or watched remotely in an overflow room — proving that even in death, Bucky Buchanan could command attention.
While Buchanan had his share of famous clients, he also represented a host of people — from hookers to thieves the homeless — who couldn’t, in truth, afford his services but needed him, said his wife, Gianna.
“Bucky had greatness in his heart,” she said. “Being an honorable man was the way he lived his life.”
Judge Nancy Oesterle addressed the crowd wearing a bright blue judges robe, saying that’s what Bucky, who slyly got away with calling her “princess” as a reference to her royal colored robe on more than one occasion, would have wanted.
“My courtroom will never be the same without Bucky,” she said. “He was a kind character and totally irreplaceable.” And as a lawyer, he was “a force to be reckoned with.”
But Buchanan wasn’t just a lawyer renowned in the Las Vegas community. He was a devoted father and grandfather and a loving husband.
He also had a heart for charity, including a soft spot for the Toys for Tots program. He served on the Board of Regents and left a mark on UNLV, whose swimming pool, the Buchanan Natatorium, is named for him.
Buchanan was also a big game hunter immensely proud of the trophies, which included animals like elephants, water buffalo and big cats, mounted on the wall of his home on Sunrise Mountain.
Buchanan’s love of hunting was a recurrent theme in the stories told about him Friday afternoon. As was a tale about the time when Buchanan, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in the same class as Arizona Sen. John McCain, sunk a ship in the Chesapeake Bay.
He was reprimanded but still graduated and served time in the Air Force. He was given military honors at his funeral.
Buchanan had a background in engineering and worked with nuclear weapons in Albuquerque. As a young man, he fell in love with the West and went on to study law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
His legal career began in Las Vegas, where in 1965 he took a job in the District Attorney’s Office. He opened his criminal defense practice five years later.
Attorney and friend Osvaldo Fumo said that when he learned Buchanan had died, “my first thought was for a guy who was always late for court, God, you took him away too quickly.”
Buchanan was a man who lived life on his own terms and had a “wicked sense of humor,” he said.
Attorney John Momot, whose lengthy legal resume includes the defense of Sandy Murphy in the Ted Binion murder trial, called Buchanan a legendary man.
“He had a particular flair, a style, a smile and a swagger,” said
Buchanan represented a host of clients of note: He defended David Mattsen, who was eventually acquitted of attempting to steal millions in cash from Binion’s vault in Pahrump; in 2003 and 2004, he represented Steven Gazlay, then a member of the 311 Boyz (a gang made up of teens from middle- and upper-middle class homes in northwest Las Vegas) accused and eventually convicted of a felony in a crowbar attack on a fellow teen.
He recently represented Roger Mayweather, the uncle and trainer for champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr., on felony coercion and battery-strangulation charges.
His son-in-law, Joseph Wykes, gave the eulogy. He cited a phrase uttered by Mattsen after his acquittal: “I believe in God and Buchanan.”
Buchanan is survived by his wife, Gianna, whom he married in 2001, two grown sons, twin daughters and several grandchildren.
“I admired Bucky so much. I was so proud of him,” Gianna Buchanan said. “To me, he was just like a hero. And while nobody’s perfect, to me, he was perfect.”
Jack Buchanan, who’s taking the reins at his father’s firm, thanked everyone profusely for coming to the ceremony. He also had a message for a chosen few of them:
“I know there are a lot of D.A.s here and if they think that their jobs got a lot easier, then think again,” he said, earning him a round of applause.
“Behind the big Vegas personality … he was the best dad,” he said.