Sferrazza seeks Nevada Supreme Court rehearing on term-limits ruling

CARSON CITY — Former Reno City Council member Jessica Sferrazza has asked the Nevada Supreme Court to rehear its 5-2 decision last week that she cannot run for Reno mayor.

In the petition by her lawyer, Bradley Schrager, Sferrazza said the majority of the court in its Feb. 20 decision did not consider a “long list of cases” that found the right to hold public office is constitutional and “ambiguity must be resolved, in favor of eligibility.”

But her chances of receiving a rehearing are slim. While many losing parties request rehearings, they rarely are granted, Supreme Court spokesman Bill Gang said.

Sferrazza and Councilman Dwight Dortch lost the case, according to the decision, because the term-limits constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1994 and 1996 prevents most elected officials from serving in the same office more than 12 years. The mayor is a member of the City Council in Reno. Both Sferrazza and Dortch are term-limited from serving another term on the council.

Schrager cited several Supreme Court cases — including some decided before the term-limit amendment went into effect — that the “right of the people to select from citizens and qualified electors whomsoever they please to fill an elective office is not to be circumscribed except by legal provisions clearly limiting the right.”

He added that Sferrazza wanted to file for mayor during the two-week filing period that starts Monday. The court, however, might extend the time frame for her if it rehears the case and rules in her favor. Her father is former Reno Mayor Pete Sferrazza.

The mayor’s office is not explicitly named in the term-limits constitutional amendment. In some cities, such as Reno and Henderson, the mayor also is a member of the city council. In other cities, the mayor is separate.

The lawyer also said that the Supreme Court ruled in 1994 that Gov. Bob Miller could run for two complete terms of his own, besides serving the last two years of Gov. Richard Bryan’s term. Bryan resigned to run for the U.S. Senate. The State of Nevada Employees Association asked if Miller could not run again because he might serve a day or two more than half of Bryan’s uncompleted term. In the decision, the court found “a governor should not be restricted by an ambiguous provision” from running for a second, full term.

Sferrazza could have “received the benefits of the presumption and liberal construction standards that the court has employed in previous cases,” Schrager wrote.

Schrager said in an interview that he tried to do “the best work I could” and it is up to the court to decide. He noted the term-limits case for Reno mayor was expedited and that “certain aspects could require fuller deliberation.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901. Follow him on Twitter @edisonvogel.