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November 21, 2014

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Nevada court asked to rule on candidate residency

Updated Tuesday, April 1, 2014 | 3:23 p.m.

CARSON CITY — A disbarred Las Vegas attorney seeking the elected office of Nevada state controller should be kept off the ballot because he doesn't meet residency requirements and ran only last year for a seat on the Los Angeles City Council, state election officials charge.

The attorney general's office on behalf of the secretary of state filed a petition late Monday with the Nevada Supreme Court urging that John Michael Schaefer be ordered to "show cause" why a challenge to his candidacy is not valid.

Election officials want the court to remove Schaefer from the Democratic primary ballot in June and declare him disqualified to hold the office.

Nevada law requires candidates for statewide office to be residents for two years preceding an election.

Schaefer filed for controller on March 7, listing a Las Vegas address. But Scott Gilles, Nevada's chief elections deputy, filed a written challenge, saying Schaefer last month was an active registered voter in Los Angeles and ran unsuccessfully there for the City Council in the March 2013 primary.

Gilles argues that Schaefer also signed a false statement on his declaration of candidacy by attesting that he "will qualify for the office if elected."

Schaefer did not return email messages seeking comment Tuesday, and he listed no phone number on his filing records.

Should he prevail in his residency challenge and appear on the ballot, he likely will have an uphill climb swaying voters.

Records show Schaefer was disbarred in 2001 by the Nevada Supreme Court, which found that he demonstrated a "blatant disregard" for others' rights. California followed suit in 2005. He has had other legal problems as well, including a misdemeanor conviction for spousal abuse.

In documents filed with the Supreme Court in his residency challenge, Schaefer points out that he has lived in Las Vegas since the early 1970s and ran for secretary of state as a Republican in 1974.

In a December letter to Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, Schaefer said there is no policy reason for Nevada to require residency.

"I do not want to start a campaign by making an issue of my 40-year residency in Nevada broken by brief political ventures in Los Angeles," he wrote. "You should decide that Nevada limitations are probably unconstitutional and act consistently with California."

This is not the first time Schaefer has challenged election residency laws. In 1998, while living in Las Vegas, he filed a federal lawsuit when Riverside County, Calif., election officials wouldn't let him file for a special election to replace Rep. Sonny Bono, who was killed in a skiing accident.

The Riverside County Registrar's office refused to give him filing papers because he wasn't registered to vote in California. Schaefer refused to become a resident until he was elected.

Though his lawsuit became moot after Bono's widow, Mary, was voted into office in the special election, a federal appeals court found a portion of California election code banning out-of-state residents from seeking U.S. House or Senate seats unconstitutional. It said candidates for those federal offices may live out of state until the day they are elected.

Schaefer, who was elected to the San Diego City Council in 1965, has been a perennial candidate over the decades, always on the losing side. Besides Nevada secretary of state and the Los Angeles City Council, he has also run for the U.S. Senate in Maryland; San Francisco district attorney; the California Board of Equalization; and other posts.

His Democratic opponent in the controller's race is Assemblyman Andrew Martin, a freshman lawmaker who had his own residency problems when elected. The day before the 2012 election, a Clark County District Court judge ruled Martin was ineligible because he lived outside his district.

Martin won anyway, and the Democratic Assembly majority allowed him to be sworn in. Under Nevada's Constitution, the Assembly and Senate determine the qualifications of their members.

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