Carson City judge blocks Muth anti-tax hike petition
Chuck Muth’s petition to have voters repeal the legislature’s tax package was blocked on Thursday by Carson District Judge Todd Russell.
After a 40-minute hearing Muth and his counsel failed to even attend, Russell ruled the tax petition violates the law both because it lacks a “description of effect” and contains multiple subjects in violation of state law.
“The description of effect — there isn’t any description of effect,” said Russell. “It doesn’t indicate anything. It’s just a preamble of the bill.”
The petition sought a referendum by Nevada voters to repeal the entire tax package approved in Senate Bill 483 at the end of the 2015 Legislature. The petition was simply a copy of that legislation.
Kevin Benson and Matt Griffin, speaking on behalf of the Coalition for Nevada’s Future, argued Muth’s attempt to remove the entire legal battle to federal court was improperly filed because it didn’t notice the Carson District Court of that and didn’t raise a federal claim. Benson said to remove a case from state to federal court requires raising an issue that could have originated in federal court.
“There’s clearly no claim in this case,” he said. “There’s not even a colorable claim of removal.
“I think this court still has jurisdiction to proceed in this case,” Benson said.
“This matter has been unlawfully, on its face, removed to federal court,” said Griffin.
Judge Russell agreed saying his court was not even served with notice of the federal claim until Thursday morning and then, only in the form of a copy of the letter to the federal court, not in an official form.
They were joined by Lori Story of the Attorney General’s Office, who said, “there is no federal questions here and I also agree Mr. Muth is trying to delay this action.
“It almost appears filed solely for the purpose of delaying this matter, delaying this hearing,” said Russell.
The judge said he thinks the petition “clearly violates the single subject requirement of (state statute).”
“And clearly when I review that petition initiative, I can’t find any Description of Effect,” he said. “For the life of me I can’t figure out how they’ve complied at all with respect to (state statute).”
Both Benson and Griffin told the judge Muth made himself completely unavailable for service in the case including notice to attend Thursday’s hearing. They said he didn’t respond to emails and despite voices inside his Las Vegas home, no one came to the door in the five attempts process servers made to get the documents to him.
Muth, in an email to the Nevada Appeal, said he wasn’t aware of the hearing until a Tuesday email from Griffin and believed the motion to remove the case to federal court put all state actions on hold.
“I haven’t seen anything yet on the court’s action today but will address this further after reviewing it with our attorney who’s representing us in the state suit related to the referendum,” his email concluded.
“This is par for the course,” Muth told the Associated Press, noting that he’s exploring his options for next steps. “They were going to do everything in their power to prevent the people from voting on this.”
At the end of the arguments, Russell ruled he must proceed because of the statutory time constraints. He not only ordered the Secretary of State be barred from putting the question on the ballot but she not accept any signatures collected in support of it.
He made it clear that has nothing to do with whether he supports the tax increase contained in SB483 or not: “The only issue before me is whether proponents have complied with the requirements of state law.” He ruled they didn’t.
He also left open the door for the Coalition to seek attorney’s fees from Muth and his “We Decide” coalition.
Thursday’s hearing is not expected to be the end of the battle over the taxes, which were backed by Gov. Brian Sandoval and passed the Legislature with more than two-thirds approval after extensive debate. Other tax opponents are seeking to repeal just one portion of the three-part package — the new Commerce Tax based on gross revenue. That petition has not been filed.