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Court says term limits don’t affect county officials

CARSON CITY – County-elected officials, such as district attorneys and sheriffs, are not subject to term limits, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday.

A constitutional amendment approved by Nevada voters limits most elected officials to 12 years in office.

In the decision written by Justice Nancy Saitta, the court said the state constitution “plainly declares district attorneys to be ‘county officers,’ ” and only positions identified as “state offices” or part of a “local government body” are subject to term limits.

In making the decision, the court upheld a lower court decision that rejected arguments from Fallon resident John O’Connor that Churchill County District Attorney Arthur Mallory should be removed from office. In 2010, Mallory won his fourth four-year term as district attorney.

The decision is important because it applies to all counties, and the ruling covers not only to district attorneys and sheriffs but county clerks, recorders, auditors and public administrators.

Under the term limits law passed by voters in 1994 and 1996, state senators, Assembly members and local governing officers, such as county commissioners and city council members, may serve no more than 12 years in office. State constitutional officers, such as the secretary of state, governor and attorney general, are limited to two terms.

During a hearing before the Supreme Court last year, Las Vegas lawyer Bradley Schrager argued that voters thought they were voting for term limits for district attorneys and many other elected officials when they passed the constitutional amendment.

“Put yourself in the booth with the voters,” Schrager asked justices, noting that the 1994 and 1996 elections came at “a high anti-incumbent time.”

Saitta pointed out the state constitution clearly calls district attorneys county offices, so they cannot be subject to term limits under the constitutional amendment. In an opinion after the term limits amendment was passed, the attorney general’s office also said county officers, such as district attorneys and sheriffs, are not subject to term limits because they do not have “governing” authority.

Six veteran district attorneys, including Washoe County’s Richard Gammick, attended the hearing before the Supreme Court last November. Gammick has been district attorney since 1995.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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