Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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Election 2014:

D.A. wants court to decide if Clark County judicial candidate is eligible to run for office

The Clark County District Attorney’s Office has asked a judicial candidate to prove he’s qualified to seek election.

The order comes after Clark County District Judge Michael Villani filed a challenge alleging his opponent for the Department 17 post, Ross Smillie, didn’t meet legal requirements to run for judge.

Nevada law requires candidates seeking a district court judgeship to be “an attorney licensed and admitted to practice law in the courts of this State, another state or the District of Columbia for a total of not less than 10 years.”

Villani asserts Smillie, a Las Vegas lawyer, was admitted to the State Bar of Nevada in 1987 but went inactive the same day of his admission. Only active members of the bar are allowed to practice law, and Smillie remained inactive until 2009, according to the challenge.

The D.A.’s Office on Thursday filed a petition ordering Smillie to come to court and show he meets the qualifications to run.

The District Attorney’s Office will present the evidence that Smillie isn’t qualified and a judge will determine if Smillie’s name should be removed from the ballot, said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

Wolfson said his office researched the history behind the Legislature’s requirement when determining the merit of Villani’s challenge. The Legislature intended for someone who presides over trials to have experience in the trenches, according to Wolfson.

“The intent is that somebody have 10 years of experience practicing law,” Wolfson said. “If you’re inactive, you’re not practicing.”

The case was originally assigned to District Judge Joanna Kishner, but she recused herself since the matter affects Clark County District Court.

Kishner, according to court minutes, said it was likely other judges also would recuse themselves. Because of the potential conflict with the court, Kishner recommended the case go straight to Chief Judge Jennifer Togliatti to determine how to re-assign the case.

When conflicts arise within a jurisdiction, the Nevada Supreme Court can appoint a senior judge or a judge from another district, said Bill Gang, the Nevada Supreme Court’s public information officer.

Nevada law gives such matters priority on court calendars over all cases except for criminal proceedings.

Smillie had time to withdraw from the race after the challenge was filed, but kept his name in the running. Wednesday was the last day to withdraw.

Attempts to reach Smillie this morning were unsuccessful.

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