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4:32 AM Thu, Dec. 13th

City not ordered to pay write-in candidate’s attorney fees

From left: Write-in candidates Ken Watkins, Deana Nelson and Harley Pettit outside the courtroom of Judge Lee Jantzen, who ruled the top four write-ins from the primary election should advance to November’s ballot. (Photo by Travis Rains/Daily Miner)

From left: Write-in candidates Ken Watkins, Deana Nelson and Harley Pettit outside the courtroom of Judge Lee Jantzen, who ruled the top four write-ins from the primary election should advance to November’s ballot. (Photo by Travis Rains/Daily Miner)

KINGMAN – Mohave County Superior Court Judge Lee Jantzen may have ruled in favor of plaintiff and City Council candidate Ken Watkins on Thursday, Sept. 20 in regards to the City’s write-in candidacy issue, but he said the City of Kingman’s interpretation of election statutes was not unreasonable.

The primary statute utilized by the City to determine write-ins would not advance to the general election ballot was ARS 16-645. However, Watkins had taken the position that ARS 9-821.01 should have been used. The former statute applies to partisan elections, the plaintiff argued, while the latter pertains to non-partisan elections. City Council elections in the City of Kingman are non-partisan.

Watkins took the City to court over the matter Thursday, where City Attorney Carl Cooper argued that the state legislature “inadvertently,” left out non-partisan in ARS 16-645, and the statute should be interpreted to include non-partisan elections and candidates.

“I believe the statute has to be interpreted, must be interpreted, as it reads,” Jantzen said Thursday in his ruling in favor of the plaintiff. “And I’m not saying it’s a good statute or a bad statute, I’m not saying the statute makes common sense … the reality is the statute is the statute, and you have to go with the statute.”

Watkins and his representation called for the City to pay his attorney fees should the judge rule in Watkins’ favor. But Jantzen did not require the City to do so because its interpretation of the statutes was “not unreasonable.”

The City’s interpretation, write-in candidates failing to meet the primary election vote threshold would not advance to the general election, was according to ARS 16-645. The League of Arizona Cities and Towns Elections Manual was cited by City staff in making that determination.

“I don’t think that’s an unreasonable position. I don’t think it’s an unreasonable position to take your election manual and read it and say ‘We interpret this to mean that 16-645 does apply to non-partisan,’ that’s not unreasonable,” Jantzen said. “So I’m not ordering any attorney fees or costs against the City or the county in finding this. I just think the law is the law, the statute is the statue, and you have to abide by the statute."