- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - Taxpayers in Boulder City could be on the hook to pay more than $100,000 in attorney fees and costs for six people who convinced the Nevada Supreme Court they were wrongly sued for circulating initiative petitions in 2010, a lawyer handling the appeals said Tuesday.

Linda Strickland said the amount was her projection of the costs of pursuing three lawsuits against six people who argued they were targeted for so-called strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP, lawsuits.

“You don’t sue your own citizens,” Strickland said. “This is about people exercising their rights to circulate petitions and the city’s response to that.”

Boulder City’s city attorney, David Olsen, said he was disappointed by the state Supreme Court order, issued Friday, and frustrated that a focus on the SLAPP issue prevented the airing of what he said were important questions about municipal authority to buy and sell land, enter contracts and incur debt.

Olsen said he would meet with the City Council to determine the city’s next step.

The cases stemmed from grassroots petitions to cap city debt; limit the terms of citizen-committee appointees; limit the city to owning just one municipal golf course; and make the city attorney job an elected position.

The debt-limit and appointee-term-limit measures were approved by voters.

Strickland, a former Boulder City councilwoman who lost a bid for mayor in 2011, handled the petitioners’ cases and appeals with her husband, Tracy Strickland.

She and Olsen said they didn’t immediately know how much money the city spent on the case. Both noted that the powerful and influential law firm of Lionel Sawyer & Collins handled Boulder City’s case.

Strickland cast the case as a battle for First Amendment rights to free speech and petition the government, and she said she thought the lawsuits dampened public participation in politics in her community. Boulder City is home to more than 15,000 people about 25 miles east of Las Vegas.

“The six individuals who stood up for their rights have cleared a path for others to participate in government in Boulder City,” Strickland said. “It doesn’t mean the City Council will respect the rights of the voters. But if they decide to do this again, they will be hit with very robust lawsuits because the court has established this as a pattern and practice.”

The city filed three lawsuits before and after the election, naming Daniel Jensen, Walt Rapp, James Douglass, Frank Fisher, Cynthia Harris and Nancy Nolette as individual plaintiffs.

The city contended that the cases weren’t SLAPP lawsuits, and the city said it needed the ability to challenge the validity and legal language of the initiatives.

But the Supreme Court noted that the Nevada Secretary of State or another government entity had always been named as a defendant in previous challenges of the sufficiency of initiatives.

The seven justices ruled unanimously that the city could have sought court review of the initiatives without suing the six people individually.

The ruling was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.


Find Ken Ritter on Twitter: https://twitter.com/krttr

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