Nevada justices seek information on move to oust Henderson mayor

The Nevada Supreme Court is seeking more information before deciding whether to intervene in the Henderson mayor term limit case.

It is requesting responses to a May 21 filing challenging Mayor Andy Hafen’s standing in office by former mayoral candidate Rick Workman.

The court is asking state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Secretary of State Ross Miller and Hafen to respond within 30 days, and Workman to respond within 15 days after that.

Hafen’s attorney Todd L. Bice said he was not surprised the court asked for responses to see whether Workman has standing to file the petition.

“We don’t think he has standing, we don’t think he can file this position, and that will be the basis for our opposition,” Bice said. “The court will then decide if it is even going to hear any argument about (the petition).”

Workman’s attorney filed the petition asking the court to “immediately” remove Hafen “from office on the legislative body of the city of Henderson” because of state term limit laws. The court filing asks the court to oust Hafen, or direct the attorney general or secretary of state to take action and remove the mayor.

A May 1 letter from Cortez Masto to Workman stated it found that a state Supreme Court ruling on term limits in February “was not intended to apply retrospectively to unseat office holders who were elected before the court’s ruling.”

The Supreme Court wants Cortez Masto and Miller to defend that position, stating Workman “set forth issues of arguable merit and may have no plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of the law.”

Bice said he does not think the court will second-guess Cortez Masto’s decision.

“I don’t think it will be seriously entertained by the court,” Bice said. “These are the principal law enforcement agencies and they have the discretion to interpret the law when they think such intervention is appropriate.”

A 1996 amendment to the Nevada Constitution capped term limits for state and local officials to elected office at 12 years. But it was not until the Supreme Court ruled Feb. 20 in Lorton v. Jones that Workman challenged Hafen’s standing. The court ruled that term limit provisions in state law mean that members of the Reno City Council who already have served 12 years under the restrictions cannot run for mayor.

Workman’s attorney, Reno-based Stephanie Rice, successfully represented George “Eddie” Lorton in the case.

Rice said Thursday the court’s request supports the case’s validity.

“We are pleased that the Nevada Supreme Court has recognized the merit set forth in our requests for enforcement of Nevada’s term limit laws,” Rice said in a statement. “We are confident that Mr. Hafen will be removed as a result of his violation of those laws. It is our hope that the Nevada secretary of state and attorney general will now join us in this endeavor.”

Hafen was re-elected last year after receiving 55 percent of the vote in the primary. Workman, a city employee since 2000 who works for the Police Department as its criminalistics administrator, received 37 percent of the vote. Hafen served on the City Council since 1987 and was elected mayor in 2009.

Contact Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind.