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John L. Smith On Copperfield's Disappearing Civil Case

Although he is not financially responsible, illusionist David Copperfield still paid a steep price: His lawyers were unable to prevent the disclosure of secrets about the illusion in question, known as "Lucky #13."
John Locher/AP

Although he is not financially responsible, illusionist David Copperfield still paid a steep price: His lawyers were unable to prevent the disclosure of secrets about the illusion in question, known as "Lucky #13."

Like the magic he’s known for, master illusionist David Copperfield made a troublesome civil case just disappear in District Judge Mark Denton’s courtroom this week.

Attorneys for Gavin Cox had claimed he suffered a brain injury while participating in one of Copperfield’s illusions during a show at the MGM Grand. The illusionist, the hotel and others were sued.

The jury took just two hours to return a verdict that potentially saved Copperfield millions. The decision: negligent but not financially liable.

KNPR’s State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith says he's a little surprised by the verdict because the attorneys for Gavin Cox started off so strong.

“I thought Cox’s attorneys were pretty persuasive,” Smith said.

Smith said the illusion in question was called "Lucky 13." Copperfield no longer performs the trick, but it involved picking members of the audience, having them "disappear," which was really "scurrying" through a maze of hallways at the back of the house at the MGM Grand and then "reappear" in another part of the stage.

Smith said even if someone was running through a hallway without construction debris like this one had at the time "you're probably asking for trouble."

Cox claimed the night he was involved in the trick he fell and hurt his head. At the time, he did get medical treatment for a shoulder injury. 

During the trial, Copperfield himself testified. He told jurors he was not aware of anyone being injured when he performed the trick.

Smith described the celebrity magician as "measured" during his testimony and he believed having the person at the center of the controversy speaking to the jury helped his case.

In addition, Copperfield's attorneys "had some cards to play," Smith said and they played them, specifically showing video of Cox moving around without assistance.

Smith said Cox came into the courtroom with assistance and moved around with assistance.

While the verdict went in favor of Copperfield and the MGM, Smith believes everyone involved learned a lesson. 

"I do believe that although there is no financial liability here. What was described and what was agreed to by all parties is: it’s quite a maze that you are asking people to go through at night in Las Vegas, a place where a lot of folks like to drink and party,” Smith said.

Cox had not been drinking but Smith said the odds are usually in favor of someone having had a drink or two before being involved in the trick.

Another item on Smith's mind is the decision by KLAS-TV Channel 8 to cancel its Republican Governor's Race Debate.

The decision was made after a dispute about who should be allowed to participate in the debate. The station waived requirements for two candidates, allowing them to participate. 

Front-runner Adam Laxalt was not happy about that decision.

“You would think he would have a little thicker skin and go on a local televisions’ debate and put up with whatever format is revealed,” he said.

Smith said it is no secret that Laxalt doesn't do a lot of interviews and that he hasn't been a "lot of testing of Laxalt by the press."

As for the Democratic side of the race, a new poll shows Steve Sisolak ahead of Chris Giunchigliani but the lead is within the margin of error for the poll.

Smith said it shows Sisolak and Chris G are spending a lot of money to stay neck and neck.

He also observed, "Laxalt is a guy making sure his suits are pressed in time for the general, while the other two are fighting it out in the streets."


John L. Smith, contributor

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Joe Schoenmann joined Nevada Public Radio in 2014. He works with a talented team of producers at State of Nevada who explore the casino industry, sports, politics, public health and everything in between.