Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Eugene Moehring

Number of Pages



The anticipated title of my doctoral dissertation in history is "Country Lawyer in a Maverick Boom Town: The Legal Career of Harry Claiborne." Spanning nearly sixty years, Claiborne's legal career reflected both the spirit of a young Las Vegas as well as the no-holds-barred attitude of frontier lawyers. Moving to Las Vegas initially in 1943 while in the military, he began practicing law in 1947. Claiborne participated in the evolution of the legal community during the mid-century growth period of southern Nevada. Possibly the most active trial lawyer in the state, his first jury trial was in 1947 and his last in 1993, a span of 46 years. Yet, more than longevity, his colorful and engaging style made him one of the most high-profile attorneys in Nevada history; More than a biography of Claiborne, this will be a study of the legal, and to some extent the social community, of mid-century Las Vegas as seen through Claiborne's eyes. His assent to the federal bench in 1978 climaxed his career as a trial lawyer. Although Claiborne returned to private practice in 1988, he was 71 years old and his best trial years were certainly behind him. But the practice of law had changed since 1978 and, due to his age and circumstances, he was no longer at the forefront of his profession. Consequently, the Claiborne "era", as I define it, runs from the post war years until his elevation to the bench; The experiences of Claiborne and his contemporaries provide a useful lens for viewing Las Vegas and its legal community at this time. These experiences, along with the backgrounds of judges, lawyers and local businessmen, contribute to our overall understanding of why Las Vegas developed as it did during that time. For example, today's judges and lawyers all graduated from four-year universities and American Bar Association accredited law schools. Most had no meaningful employment until after law school graduation. This contrasts sharply with judges and lawyers practicing in Las Vegas in the 1940s when Claiborne first arrived. Many did not attend law school, or even college. Instead, they worked and studied in an office of a practicing attorney and learned the law while on the job. When ready, they took a Bar examination, which was not uniform across the country, but was prepared by local attorneys who were not trained, or even knowledgeable, about how to prepare comprehensive examinations. For many, their character was hardened by the times; the depression and military service in one of the two world wars, or both, as well as Korea; Colorful, forceful, and hardworking, he quickly established a reputation as the lawyer of choice for the most prominent companies and individuals in Las Vegas. Through Claiborne's career and observations, we can look "behind the scenes" of landmark legal decisions such as the Thunderbird Hotel case in which the resort challenged the state's authority to regulate holders of gaming licences, the licensing of the Sands Hotel and Frank Sinatra by the Nevada gaming authorities, along with the subsequent revocation proceedings against Sinatra, as well as the criminal prosecution of many high profile individuals in Nevada's courts. Viewing legal history through Claiborne's political career will shed light on the backroom deals, and other episodes which anecdotally help describe mid-century Nevada politics. So, this work is far more than a biography of Claiborne. It will be the story of a dynamic legal community that developed in a rogue town dominated by casino operators, often with mob connections---a legal community that came of age during Claiborne's career. What better way to see that unfold, than through the eyes and ears of its most forceful and outspoken participant, Harry Claiborne.


Boom; Career; Claiborne; Harry; Country; Las Vegas Legal History; Lawyer; Legal; Legal History; Las Vegas; Maverick; Nevada; Nevada Legal History; Nevada

Controlled Subject

Law; Biography

File Format


File Size

3584 KB

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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