A lower court ruling in an Ely case seen by election officials as a threat to Nevada's residency requirements for candidates and voters was overturned Wednesday by the state Supreme Court.
The unanimous high court ruling went against Ely Mayor Bob Miller, whose candidacy was challenged by George Chachas of Ely on grounds Miller wasn't a resident of the eastern Nevada city for two years before his re-election last summer.
The Nevada Constitution and state law require that mayoral candidates reside in a city a full year before taking office and at least 30 days before filing for the office. But District Judge Andrew Puccinelli of Elko ruled Miller could run even though he had been living just outside Ely for two years, caring for his elderly mother in nearby Mineral Heights.
Miller contended he was in substantial compliance because he was only a short distance from Ely's city limits and intended to move back into town.
But the Supreme Court, siding with Chachas attorney Patty Cafferatta, said actual residency is the standard.
Election officials from all 17 Nevada counties had backed Cafferatta's argument that the lower court ruling created too much confusion. The secretary of state's office also filed a brief supporting the state law requiring "actual residence" in a city for a full year.
Justices said Miller did maintain Ely as his "legal domicile" - but the lower court should have determined whether Miller also was an actual resident of the town.
"Miller only actually resided in Ely for one night during the required period and, thus, did not substantially comply with the actual residency requirements of (state law)," the high court said.
During oral arguments last year, Cafferatta said Miller should have chosen between his personal life and political aspirations but instead "he wanted to have his cake and eat it too."
Attorney Gary DiGrazia, representing Miller, countered that his client was born and raised in Ely, co-owned a house and kept an apartment in town, was registered to vote in town and kept an Ely mailing address and bank account.
Justice Deborah Agosti said during the arguments that it was clear Miller "was doing what a good son ought to do" in caring for his mother. But she said affirming the lower court decision that favored Miller could create many problems.
The ruling remands the case to the lower court "for further action consistent with this opinion." Chachas had sought an election contest following Miller's April 2003 election, or a judgment saying Miller wasn't qualified to be mayor.