North Las Vegas Councilman Wade Wagner won a legal judgment against the city Tuesday, collecting more than $70,000 in court-awarded legal fees to defray the cost of a three-year legal battle over his disputed 2011 election.
First-term Republican Wagner, who won his council seat by a single vote over incumbent Democrat Richard Cherchio, first took the city to court in June 2011, filing a lawsuit meant to block a planned special election aimed at settling Ward 4’s closely fought municipal race.
The city, faced with questions about a Ward 3 ballot mistakenly cast in Ward 4, had opted to hold a special election in lieu of recounting contested votes in Precinct 4306.
Wagner, who had already agreed to a recount, sued days later, arguing the city didn’t have the legal right to do anything more than canvass and recertify his narrow Election Day victory.
That lawsuit was upheld more than two years later by the Nevada Supreme Court, which found the councilman’s legal action “precluded the city from conducting an improper revote,” and saved city taxpayers the expense of holding a special election.
The December 2013 Supreme Court ruling reversed and remanded a District Court decision handed down by Judge Elizabeth Goff Gonzalez.
Seven months later, Gonzalez reversed her position on the matter, finding the city could be held liable for at least some of Wagner’s court costs as part of a judgment issued on Tuesday.
Gonzalez, ruling from the bench, estimated the city could be held liable for more than $70,000 in legal fees, a little more than half the total Wagner sought in court papers filed last month.
“I’m not pleased with the result,” City Attorney Sandra Douglass Morgan said Tuesday, “but I’m pleased it’s not for the full amount.”
Morgan, who made the city’s case at trial three years ago, argued the city should be on the hook only for the estimated $2,000 cost of 2011’s proposed do-over election.
She declined to comment on how the cash-strapped city plans to pay for this week’s decision, the latest in a string of city court defeats dating back to a now-settled $25 million labor dispute ruling issued in January.
Wagner, who goes up for re-election in June, did not return requests for comment.
Former Councilman Cherchio, Wagner’s 2011 opponent and presumptive 2015 challenger, offered mixed reaction to the ruling.
“What bothers me is that it came down in his favor,” Cherchio, who was once named as a co-defendant in the case, said Tuesday. “I mean, I have legal bills of my own to pay, but I don’t know why that should be the taxpayers’ responsibility.
“It’s unfortunate. … Some of these politicians just don’t know where to draw the line.”
Wagner’s attorney Todd Bice said city leaders have only themselves to blame for this week’s costly legal ruling.
“It’s not Wade that’s putting them on the hook for attorney’s fees,” Bice said. “It was the people responsible for voting for an election they were advised against.”
Contact James DeHaven at email@example.com or 702-477-3839. Find him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.