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March 24, 2017

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Judge tosses part of Sanders backers’ lawsuit against Nevada Democrats

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L.E. Baskow

Supporters cheer for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaking during a caucus watch party and rally Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, at Henderson Pavilion.

Updated Friday, May 13, 2016 | 1:19 p.m.

A lower court judge ruled today to dismiss the major claims in a case filed by a group of Bernie Sanders supporters against the state Democratic party, saying that it wasn’t the court’s place to interfere in intra-party politics.

The Sanders supporters had asked the court to grant an injunction allowing them to run for state party office at Saturday's state Democratic convention. The judge, however, said that case law precludes him from interfering with a party’s internal political process.

The lawsuit had alleged the state Democratic Party had failed to properly notify Democrats of a deadline to run for state party office in violation of both its own internal rules as well as Nevada law. The defendants argued the confusion over the deadline had been caused internally by Sanders supporters and that the party had made the deadline clear in emails it had sent out.

“Courts are not allowed to interfere with intra-party squabbles unless there is a compelling state interest to do so,” said Judge Ronald Israel at a hearing this morning.

He added the court’s interference would also be premature, given that the convention hasn’t yet taken place and there’s still an option that would allow convention goers to bring the issue up before the body of the convention.

He also agreed with the defendants’ argument that the confusion over the deadline to run for party office was not brought about by the party itself, but through misinformation had spread within the group of Sanders supporters. He added that supporters of both candidates were present at a phone meeting where the final deadline, April 25, was decided and were free to disseminate that information to their supporters however they saw fit.

Lawyer Bradley Schrager, defending the state Democratic party as well as the party’s chair and executive director, called the lawsuit an effort to “entangle the court in the inner workings of the state party the night before the convention” at the hearing.

The state Democratic Party called the lawsuit a "frivolous lawsuit" and "an unnecessary distraction from our shared goals as Democrats" in a statement.

"As we said all along, this lawsuit was purely political and in no way based in state law," the party said in a statement. "Now that this issue has been resolved, we look forward to moving forward and coming together to have a smooth, efficiently-run State Convention this weekend."

The plaintiff’s attorney, Robert Kern, said it would’ve been a “bold move” for the judge to rule in their favor.

“We knew that the legal theories we were bringing here today were very novel theories,” Kern said. “We aren’t surprised he went a more conservative route.”

Kern said the group has no plans to appeal the ruling, though he does believe the judge had some misunderstanding of the facts of the case, specifically with regard to a second claim in the lawsuit pertaining to the re-election of the party’s central committee.

The lawsuit had alleged the state party was allowing committee members to choose whether they wanted to serve another two-year term without facing re-election in violation of state law. However, the judge said that if a voice vote is taken to reinstate the committee members, that would meet the requirements of the state statute.

Kern said that he plans to broach the issues with the Democratic National Committee, but said that he didn’t expect much to come from it.

“I’ll send an email, but I won’t be holding my breath,” Kern said.

Some Sanders supporters are in the process of circulating a series of petitions to bring the issues mentioned in the lawsuit before a vote of the full convention body Saturday. They need 20 percent of the signatures of convention goers in order to bring a motion before the convention.

CORRECTION: This story has been corrected to show that the major claims of the case were dismissed, not the lawsuit in its entirety. | (May 14, 2016)

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