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July 30, 2014

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Judge blocks Nevada controller candidate from ballot

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Steve Marcus

Judge Carolyn Ellsworth holds up documents during a hearing for John Michael Schaefer, a candidate for Nevada state controller, at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, April 3, 2014. Election officials want the court to remove Schaefer from the Democratic primary ballot because they contend he doesn’t meet residency requirements.

Updated Thursday, April 3, 2014 | 6:45 p.m.

Residency Hearing For Controller Candidate

John Michael Schaefer, a candidate for Nevada state controller, appears in court during a hearing at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, April 3, 2014. Election officials want the court to remove Schaefer from the Democratic primary ballot because they contend he doesn't meet residency requirements. Launch slideshow »

A judge ruled Thursday that a disbarred Las Vegas lawyer who ran for Los Angeles City Council a little over a year ago doesn't meet a two-year state residency requirement and can't seek the Democratic primary nod for Nevada state controller.

John Michael Schaefer said he wasn't immediately sure whether he'll appeal Clark County District Court Judge Carolyn Ellsworth's decision, which will become effective once she signs a court order removing Schaefer from the June primary ballot.

Ellsworth heard 2 1/2 hours of testimony and arguments from Schaefer, who served as his own attorney and insisted that although he rents a room in Los Angeles, his primary residence is a Las Vegas condominium where he gets his mail.

Under questioning by Kevin Benson, a senior deputy Nevada attorney general, Schaefer and his son, Michael Schafer, also testified that the three-bedroom Las Vegas condo is partitioned into spaces that he rents to several other people, including one who they said sleeps in a walk-in closet.

The elder Schaefer is a 76-year-old self-described political gadfly and Hollywood acting extra who served in the 1960s on the San Diego City Council. He lost subsequent bids for a range of offices including Nevada secretary of state, U.S. Senate from Maryland, San Francisco district attorney, California Board of Equalization and Los Angeles City Council.

Schaefer, who said he lives on Social Security, said he was attracted to run for Los Angeles council by the $180,000 salary. He also testified that after he lost, he applied for a job as city manager of Burbank, Calif.

"Where else can an old man get a salary like that?" he asked the judge.

The Nevada controller job pays about $100,000.

Ellsworth said she was convinced that if Schaefer won in Los Angeles or was hired for the Burbank job he wouldn't be claiming longtime Las Vegas residency.

The judge pointed to Schaefer's testimony in January before a Las Vegas justice of the peace in a driver's license case. Schaefer said at that time that while he had licenses from Nevada and California, he really lived in California.

The justice of the peace had a bailiff confiscate and destroy Schaefer's Nevada license. Schaefer said Thursday that didn't matter because he had another Nevada license.

Ellsworth rejected Schaefer's contention that because some states don't have the same residency requirement as Nevada, the Nevada requirement was unconstitutional.

"The residency requirement does not violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution because it is rationally related to a legitimate state interest," the judge said.

"The court makes a finding of fact that you were a resident of the state of California for a period that would interrupt the two-year period," she said. "You don't meet the residency requirement."

Schaefer's ouster leaves state Assemblyman Andrew Martin unopposed in the Democratic primary.

Martin is a freshman state lawmaker with his own residency questions. He was sworn by a Democratic Assembly majority last year even though a Clark County District Court judge ruled he was ineligible because he lived outside the assembly district he was elected to serve.

The Nevada Constitution lets the Assembly and Senate determine qualifications of their members.

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