Question 3 on the ballot
September 21, 2004
The Nevada Supreme Court, in a one-sentence order, has ended the battle over Question 3 by denying the trial lawyers association’s last-ditch attempt to force the issue off the ballot.
The order Tuesday afternoon denied the lawyers’ motion to hold Secretary of State Dean Heller in contempt for not striking Question 3 from the November ballot.
Barring any further “shenanigans,” as Dr. Michael Fischer, head of the state medical association put it, county election officials can now order absentee and sample ballots for November printed.
Chief Deputy Secretary of State Renee Parker said she was notifying clerks – many of whom needed the answer today – immediately.
The decision followed a response by Heller’s office earlier Tuesday which charged that the trial lawyers would do anything to remove Question 3 from the ballot.
The ballot question, supported by Nevada doctors, would sharply limit malpractice judgments and is strongly opposed by personal-injury lawyers.
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In a petition last week authored by Reno personal-injury lawyer Bill Bradley, the lawyers charged that the ballot explanation for Question 3 was incomplete and inaccurate. They demanded the explanation be rewritten.
The Supreme Court agreed and issued a Saturday order directing Heller’s office to either rewrite the question or remove it from the ballot.
Heller’s Chief of Staff Renee Parker and legal counsel Victoria Oldenburg worked through the weekend to complete the rewrite. But it was immediately challenged by the lawyers who demanded the question be removed from the ballot and that Heller be held in contempt for not doing so.
In Tuesday’s response, Heller’s office pointed out the lawyers “disingenuously forgot to inform this court” that they had access to the ballot language for more than a month before filing their complaint accusing the Secretary of State’s Office of not providing it to them on time.
“It was sent to the county clerks and registrars of voters on July 28, 2004, posted on the secretary of state’s Web site and a press release was issued that day,” Heller said.
Heller decided to rewrite the explanation, despite the fact ballots must be printed this week, “because the secretary did not want to nullify the intent of the thousands of Nevada citizens who signed the initiative petition to place Question 3 on the 2004 General Election Ballot.”
He also said Bradley was invited to help with the rewrite so it would resolve their problems with the language.
“Mr. Bradley was infuriated with the secretary’s decision and stated he wanted absolutely no part in any rewrite of the condensation and explanation. Mr. Bradley insisted that Question 3 be removed from the ballot.”
The Supreme Court said there is no basis for a contempt charge against Heller. The court ordered him to either rewrite the language and, if that wasn’t possible, remove the question from the ballot. It says he complied by having his office redo the explanation to resolve the issues raised in the court order.
“In this case, not only did the secretary engage in immediate extraordinary actions to comply with the court’s order, he also invited opposing counsel to assist in that process even though he was under no obligation to do so,” the response states. “Opposing counsel’s refusal to be a part of that process, and continued insistence that Question 3 be stricken from the ballot is further evidence that petitioners’ claims are disingenuous and that their true motivation is to halt the will of the voters by preventing Question 3 from being placed before the voters,” the court ruled.
Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at email@example.com or 687-8750.