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April 17, 2014

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Boulder City lawsuits still working through the courts

The sponsors of three Boulder City ballot questions are still waiting for their day in front of the Nevada Supreme Court.

The state's highest court ruled on March 3 that the petitioners, who were sued by the city as a means of challenging the questions' legality, must prove that their case falls under the court's jurisdiction before it would hear their appeal.

The petitioners' attorneys, Tracy and Linda Strickland, must file additional paperwork by April 3. The court said in its ruling that, according to precedent, it can't hear an appeal unless the case has been completed in district court or if a unique section of law has been called into question.

If and when the appeal goes forward, the court granted the Stricklands' motion to consolidate the three separate cases -- covering questions about the city's golf courses, restrictions on its debt and term limits for city committee members -- into one appeal.

In all three cases, the Stricklands filed a special motion to dismiss, citing Nevada's anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statutes. All three motions were denied in district court -- although in each case, the ruling judge expressed reservations about Boulder City's conduct and encouraged the defendants to appeal.

District Judge Susan Scrann, in denying the Stricklands' motion in the case regarding term limits for committee members, has ordered that Boulder City must prove it hasn't intentionally harassed the defendants through the lawsuits or driven up their legal costs.

The Stricklands have argued that the city could have used a special section of Nevada law -- Chapter 43 -- to ask for a judge's ruling on the questions' legality without suing their sponsors. They've also pointed out that Boulder City has sued the petitioners of seven of the last eight questions to appear on its ballot.

The city must justify why it didn't take that course of action at a hearing on March 18, Scrann said in her order.

One question would have limited Boulder City to owning one 18-hole golf course. That question was defeated 66 percent to 34 percent in November. Judge Allan Earl denied the defendants' anti-SLAPP motion on Oct. 21.

Another would have called for a special election if the city planned to go into debt for $1 million or more. That initiative passed 58-42. Judge Jerome Tao denied the anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss on Jan. 20.

The third petition limited the terms of city committee members to no more than 12 years. Boulder City voters approved that measure 60-40. Scrann denied the anti-SLAPP motion on Jan. 24, but in the same order, instructed Boulder City to prove it wasn't attempting to silence the defendants.

"Boulder City was aware of (Chapter 43)," Scrann wrote in her order, "but chose not to use it although case law shows its use is appropriate for the purpose of challenging an ordinance's validity."

"This suggests harassment," she said.

According to City Attorney Dave Olsen, Boulder City has spent more than $70,000 in pursuing the ballot question lawsuits. In the anti-SLAPP motions, the Stricklands had asked for about $10,000 to cover their clients' legal fees.

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