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Lorton v. Jones

Supreme Court of Nevada

February 20, 2014

GEORGE " EDDIE" LORTON, Petitioner,
v.
LYNNETTE JONES, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS RENO CITY CLERK; AND DAN BURK, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS THE WASHOE COUNTY REGISTRAR AND CHIEF ELECTIONS OFFICER OF WASHOE COUNTY, Respondents, and JESSICA SFERRAZZA AND DWIGHT DORTCH, IN THEIR CAPACITIES AS CANDIDATES FOR CERTAIN OFFICES, Real Parties in Interest

Original petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition challenging the eligibility of real parties in interest to run in the 2014 Reno, Nevada, mayoral election.

Petition granted.

Hardy Law Group and Stephanie R. Rice, Reno, for Petitioner.

John J. Kadlic, City Attorney, and Tracy L. Chase, Chief Deputy City Attorney, Reno, for Respondent Lynette Jones.

Richard A. Gammick, District Attorney, and Herbert B. Kaplan, Deputy District Attorney, Washoe County, for Respondent Dan Burk.

Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin, LLP, and Bradley S. Schrager and Daniel Bravo, Las Vegas, for Real Party in Interest Jessica Sferrazza.

Gordon Silver and John P. Desmond, Brett J. Scolari, and Anjali D. Webster, Reno, for Real Party in Interest Dwight Dortch.

Hardesty, J. We concur: Gibbons, C.J. Douglas, J. Cherry, J. PICKERING, J., concurring. SAITTA, J., with whom PARRAGUIRRE, J., agrees, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 1052

BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.

HARDESTY, J.:

Article 15, Section 3(2) of the Nevada Constitution prohibits an individual from being " elected to any state office or local governing body [if he or she] has served in that office, or at the expiration of his [or her] current term [he or she] will have served, 12 years or more." The parties do not dispute that the " local governing body" of the City of Reno, Nevada, is the city council, which is made up of six council members and the mayor of Reno. The issue we must decide is whether an individual who has served for 12 years or more as a council member is thereafter prohibited, by the limitations imposed under Article 15, Section 3(2), from running for mayor of Reno. Because the Reno City Charter makes the mayor a member of the city's " local governing body" for all purposes, we conclude that Article 15, Section 3(2) bars a term-limited council member from thereafter being elected mayor of Reno. We therefore grant the petition for a writ of mandamus.

BACKGROUND

The City of Reno is a municipal corporation, organized and existing under the laws of the State of Nevada through a charter approved by the Legislature. Under the Reno City Charter, the legislative power of the city is vested in the city council, which consists of six city council members and the mayor. Reno City Charter, Art. II, § 2.010(1). The mayor and one of the city council members represent the city at large, while the remaining city council members each represent one of Reno's five wards. See id. § 2.010(3).

In this matter, real party in interest Jessica Sferrazza served on the Reno city council as the representative for Ward 3 for 12 years, ending in 2012. Real party in interest Dwight Dortch is currently serving on the Reno city council as the representative for Ward 4. When his term ends in 2014, he will also have served on the city council for 12 years. Both Sferrazza and Dortch have publicly expressed an intention to run for mayor of Reno in the 2014 election.

Petitioner George " Eddie" Lorton, a citizen of Reno who also intends to run for mayor, filed this writ petition seeking extraordinary relief preventing respondents Reno City Clerk Lynette Jones and Washoe County Registrar and Chief Elections Officer Dan Burk from taking the steps necessary to include either Sferrazza or Dortch on the 2014 ballot for the mayoral race. Lorton asserts that both Sferrazza and Dortch are ineligible to run for mayor under Article 15, Section 3(2) of the Nevada Constitution by virtue of their 12 years of service as city council members.

DISCUSSION

Article 15, Section 3(2) of the Nevada Constitution provides, in full, that

Page 1053

[n]o person may be elected to any state office or local governing body who has served in that office, or at the expiration of his [or her] current term if he [or she] is so serving will have served, 12 years or more, unless the permissible number of terms or duration of service is otherwise specified in this Constitution.

It is undisputed that, under this provision, an individual may not serve in the same state office or position on a local governing body for more than 12 years. See Miller v. Burk, 124 Nev. 579, 599, 188 P.3d 1112, 1125 (2008). The question here is, when a local governing body includes multiple positions, such as when a city council is made up of both city council members and the city's mayor, does Article 15, Section 3(2) also prevent an individual who has served for 12 years in one position on that local governing body from then serving additional terms in a different position on the same body?[1]

Before reaching that question, however, we must first determine whether a writ proceeding is an appropriate avenue for obtaining the relief that petitioner seeks.

Writ relief

It is well established that writ relief is generally not available when the petitioner has a plain, speedy, and adequate remedy at law. See NRS 34.170; NRS 34.330; Int'l Game Tech., Inc. v. Second Judicial Dist. Court, 124 Nev. 193, 197, 179 P.3d 556, 558 (2008). But even when a legal remedy is available, this court may exercise its discretion to consider a writ petition when the petition presents a legal issue of statewide importance that needs clarification, and principles of judicial economy and public policy weigh in favor of considering the petition. See Salaiscooper v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 117 Nev. 892, 901-02, 34 P.3d 509, 515-16 (2001) (indicating that, even when a legal remedy is available, this court may exercise its discretion to consider a writ petition that presents an issue of statewide importance when principles of sound judicial economy weigh in favor of consideration of the petition); see also Walker v. Eighth Judicial Dist. Court, 120 Nev. 815, 819, 101 P.3d 787, 790 (2004) (recognizing that this court may consider a writ petition when " an important issue of law needs clarification and public policy is served by this court's invocation of its original jurisdiction" (internal quotation marks omitted)).

In city elections, NRS 293C.186 allows a citizen to assert a challenge to a declared candidate on the ground that the candidate does not meet one of the qualifications for office, such as an age or residency requirement. NRS 293C.186(1). Here, Lorton contends that this statutory scheme is insufficient to allow a constitutional challenge to a declared candidate to be timely resolved and argues that Sferrazza and Dortch do not meet the constitutional requirements for the office of mayor because they have each served the maximum permissible number of years on the Reno city council.[2] Unlike a fact-based challenge to a candidate's age or residency, the facts in this matter are not in dispute, as there is no question that Sferrazza and Dortch will each have served for 12 years as council members. Instead, this ...


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