In a case that could be the first of its kind, the Nevada Supreme Court will be asked to decide whether a North Las Vegas municipal judge can be recalled from office by voters.
After a Clark County judge ruled Thursday evening that the recall can go forward, the attorney for Municipal Court Judge Catherine Ramsey said he will file an appeal next week.
Ramsey, who has been on the Municipal Court bench since 2011, is challenging the attempt to remove her as unconstitutional. She also points to problems with the signatures gathered by backers.
“He’s wrong,” Ramsey’s attorney, Craig Mueller, said after the ruling by District Judge Eric Johnson.
In making the ruling, Johnson noted that no Nevada judge has ever been recalled. And no prior effort has even gathered enough signatures to get on the ballot, according to state records dating back more than 20 years.
Johnson heard testimony over two days this week regarding the process used to verify the voter signatures collected by backers of a recall. On Thursday, Mueller grilled the county’s registrar of voters, Joe Gloria, at length about discrepancies.
Gloria’s employees included signatures in a sample even when they had been crossed out and later deemed some valid even though the names signed did not match the registered voters’ names. They also counted a page of signatures that didn’t have a notary public’s stamp, Mueller said.
Gloria said discrepancies in names don’t automatically disqualify signatures, since people change names when they marry and for other reasons. If election officials can match the signature with one on file and verify the person was eligible to sign the petition, they can rule it valid, he said.
“Our underlying goal is always to try to enfranchise those who signed the petition, not disenfranchise,” Gloria said.
Mueller later argued Gloria and his staff had become advocates instead of umpires, going out of their way to make sure there were enough valid signatures for the recall to succeed. He did not say why they might have done that. Mueller also said the county missed hundreds of duplicate signatures because it only verified a random sample of 500, as required by law.
According to testimony, no one told Ramsey when the signature verification was going to begin, even though by law she had a right to witness it. The verification started at 8:40 a.m. the day after the petitions were turned in, Gloria testified.
Johnson ruled it was Ramsey’s responsibility to seek to be there since she knew the petitions had been turned in.
The judge also found that the sampling and verification procedures used were proper. He noted that the law does not require the process to be perfect; it requires “substantial compliance.”
Under the Nevada Constitution, an elected “public officer” can be removed if 25 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the original election sign a recall petition — and if a majority of people then vote for removal.
In calling the recall unconstitutional, Mueller pointed to a state law that says “public officer” does not include judges. But Ross Miller, a former secretary of state and the lawyer for the recall effort, said that’s a misreading of a statute that limits the scope of the state ethics law.
Johnson ruled judges can be recalled, saying no law has trumped a constitutional clause approved by voters in 1912 that makes “every public officer in the state of Nevada” subject to recall.
The recall committee has accused Ramsey of taking an excessive number of days off, misappropriating city funds to pay for a private lawsuit and asking employees to perform personal errands on city time.
Ramsey has argued the recall is political payback because she dismissed cases due to technical errors, depriving the city of revenue, and fought to preserve court funding that the city wanted to take for other uses.
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