Court filing says revenge behind effort to oust Henderson mayor

A former candidate seeking the removal of Henderson Mayor Andy Hafen is motivated by “revenge” and the petition should be rejected, according to a court filing made Wednesday.

Rick Workman filed the petition May 21 asking the Nevada Supreme 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.

In Wednesday’s filing, Hafen’s attorney states Workman “knows” he does not have standing to seek relief from the court and has no standing to the mayor’s office. Also, the “attorney general has no ministerial or nondiscretionary obligation to facilitate Workman’s desire for revenge against Mayor Hafen or the voters that overwhelmingly rejected Workman.”

Hafen won re-election in the 2013 primary, capturing nearly 55 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates. Workman was second with 37 percent of the vote.

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

Hafen’s filing comes nearly a week after a joint response was filed by Cortez Masto and Secretary of State Ross Miller arguing Workman fails to show “he has any direct or personal stake in the outcome” and cannot challenge Hafen’s position in office.

Hafen’s attorney, Todd L. Bice, argues in Wednesday’s filing “voters elected Mayor Hafen under the then-established interpretation of eligibility” and Workman never challenged the mayor’s eligibility prior to the election or during the vote count.

“The law rightly forecloses an unsuccessful candidate from lying in wait, gambling on the election outcome, and then seeking to undo the adverse results more than a year after losing,” Bice wrote. “Such after-the-fact challenges are an affront to the electoral process.”

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 R. Rice, said Wednesday the filings by Hafen and state officials ignored the term-limit law itself.

“Both responses speak for themselves,” Rice said in a statement. “The Nevada Secretary of State and the Attorney General admit, ‘[I]f Mr. Hafen is not removed from office, then the people’s will on term limits is defeated.’ The Attorney General, Secretary of State and Mr. Hafen all fail to dispute or make any argument against the fact that Mr. Hafen is holding office in direct violation of the Nevada Constitution. It says a lot when all three parties effectively admit that Mr. Hafen is breaking the law and instead of disputing that fact, they spend more than 65 combined pages discussing alleged procedural technicalities to justify why Mr. Hafen should be permitted to continue to violate the law.”

Workman now has 15 days to respond and then the court will decide if it will hear arguments, or issue a ruling off the filings.

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