Judge candidate’s eligibility in question | NevadaAppeal.com

Judge candidate’s eligibility in question

Appeal staff writer

A candidate for Carson City district judge may not be legally qualified for office, but it is unclear if anyone could challenge him to find out.

A 2005 state law says district judges must have been licensed at least 10 years prior to an election, but Mark Krueger, one of four candidates for the district court seat, has been licensed for about eight years.

The law, however, shouldn’t apply to candidates who were licensed before the law went into effect, said Krueger, who was licensed in September 2000.

“My opponents are attorneys and they are held to a standard of knowing the law,” said Krueger, a Lyon County assistant district attorney. “I would think they’re not going to challenge this because they’ve probably evaluated it the same way I have.”

The law is “ridiculous” to begin with anyway, he said, because it doesn’t guarantee experience, only that someone has been licensed.

Candidates could get their license, “sail around the world” and, 10 years later, run for district judge, he said.

The state and courts have said little on the law, NRS 3.060, and even less about the particular point Krueger’s candidacy brings up.

A case before the Nevada Supreme Court on the law, however, does seem to presuppose that Krueger is wrong.

It argues that Brigid Duffy, a candidate for Clark County district court judge, will have met the 10-year requirement by the time she could take office in 2009, but not by the November election.

The plaintiff points to the wording in the law that says a candidate must have been licensed for at least 10 years “preceding” the election.

Specifically, attorneys for the plaintiff, fellow candidate Maria Maskall, are asking the court to allow challenges to a candidate’s qualifications up until the election.

A candidate’s qualifications under current law can be challenged until early February.

David Lee, one of Maskall’s attorneys, called Krueger’s argument “interesting,” but said there could be a lot of confusion about what to do if an unqualified candidate is actually elected.

“It’s very convoluted at that point,” he said.

Officials such as district attorneys or state department heads could ask the state attorney general to give an opinion on what the law means, Nevada Deputy Attorney General Nhu Nguyen said, but that opinion would not be legally binding.

A judge could look at the opinion as “persuasive authority,” she said, but doesn’t have to.

How the meaning of the law will eventually be defined is hard to say, she said, because a precedent has not been set.

The meaning of the law, however, is clear, said John Lee, the Clark County state senator who wrote it.

He said if someone read “the plain English” of the law, “you would not even try to apply to be a (district) judge if you at the time of filing had not had 10 years of experience.”

The three other candidates besides Krueger for Carson City district court judge are Noel Waters, Caren Jenkins and Jim Wilson. They all have been licensed at least 10 years.

– Contact reporter Dave Frank at dfrank@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.