Las Vegas Sun

April 18, 2014

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Nevada Supreme Court opens fall term with dispute over TV ad

CARSON CITY – The Nevada Supreme Court opens its fall term today with a hearing on a freedom of speech argument by a political advocacy group.

An out-of-state organization called Alliance for America’s Future started running television advertisements during the 2010 election campaign touting the merits of Brian Sandoval in his run for governor.

The pro-Sandoval ads never told viewers to vote for Sandoval, but they listed his merits in his primary election race against then-Gov. Jim Gibbons.

Secretary of State Ross Miller, Nevada’s chief election officer, labeled the nonprofit organization as a political action committee and ordered it to register with his office. Registration would have required the group to release the names of its officers, its expenditures and other information.

Alliance refused, citing freedom of speech protections in the federal and state constitutions. Miller filed suit in district court in Carson City to stop the advertisements and to levy a $5,000 fine. District Judge James Wilson issued an injunction banning the group from airing the ads.

Alliance appealed, saying it didn't advocate or urge viewers to vote for Sandoval and wasn't a political action committee.

Miller maintains the First Amendment on freedom of speech permits states to require registration and reporting of independent expenditures by groups trying to influence elections. Registration is required even if the group didn't use such words as “vote for,” “elect” or “defeat,” according to the legal brief filed on behalf of Miller.

At the time, Alliance was described in news reports as a pro-Republican group that wanted Sandoval to defeat Gibbons in the primary election because Sandoval was thought to have a better chance of beating Democrat Rory Reid in the general election.

The court set aside 30 minutes for arguments and is expected to rule later.

The opening day schedule also includes an appeal by Nevada Power Company in its battle to condemn property belonging to Ernest and Kathleen Becker in Las Vegas.

The utility sought the property at the northwest corner of Blue Diamond Road and Rainbow Boulevard for an electrical transmission line.

The Beckers operated a convenience store/gas station on the parcel. Nevada Power offered to pay the Beckers $345,000, but the offer was refused. The case went to trial, with the Beckers seeking $900,000 for the property plus other costs, such as severance damages.

The jury awarded the Beckers $239,000, but District Judge Valorie Vega ruled the Beckers were entitled to their costs and interest on the award. The total wasn't disclosed in briefs submitted to the court.

The company maintains it’s entitled to recover its costs and the Beckers shouldn't recoup their costs or post-offer prejudgment interest.

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