The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Mesa Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanaugh is barred from running for re-election in the spring.
At issue was whether Kavanaugh could run for a third consecutive term, despite the city charter's ban on more than two consecutive terms.
Kavanaugh served at-large from 1996 to 2000, then was elected to the newly created District 3 in 2000.
He argued that term limits don't apply in his case because the city switched from the at-large system to a district system. Kavanaugh reasoned that the change created new council offices and essentially erased his previous term, leaving him eligible for another term.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice Charles E. Jones upheld a lower court's decision that Kavanaugh's name is prohibited from appearing on the March 9 ballot.
The two-page order listed no dissent among the five justices who considered the appeal, and gave no explanation for the ruling. A written decision will follow in due course, Jones wrote.
The ruling shook Kavanaugh, a Democrat, who enjoyed wide support in City Council District 3 in southwest Mesa. Kavanaugh's campaign was in full swing, with volunteers having mailed 6,500 brochures and put re-election signs throughout the district.
"As a lawyer I accept and respect the court's decision," Kavanaugh wrote in a statement. "However, I am disappointed that the court's choice will mean the voters of District 3 will not have a choice in the March 9 election."
The ruling means Tom Rawles, a Republican, will be the only name on the District 3 ballot. Dec. 10 was the filing deadline for candidates to have their names placed on the ballot. Write-in candidates have until February 29 to file.
Rawles filed suit in December to stop Kavanaugh's re-election bid.
"I'm gratified that the court has elevated the rule of law above individual desires and ambition," Rawles said Thursday.
Kavanaugh's interpretation of term limits was backed by a city attorney's opinion.
On Jan. 7, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Paul Katz ruled for Rawles.
Kavanaugh's lawyer, Lisa Hauser, appealed to the state Supreme Court the following day.
Mesa Councilman Mike Whalen, who endorsed Kavanaugh, said he will be missed on the council.
"Dennis Kavanaugh is a very good man," Whalen said. "I've enjoyed working for him. He's got a lot of guts and good principles."
Rawles, a lawyer and a former Maricopa County supervisor, ran as a Libertarian candidate for governor in 1998.
City and county officials were concerned a prolonged court battle could delay the printing of ballots and publicity pamphlets and drive up the cost to taxpayers, but no figures were available. Mesa has budgeted $271,000 for the election, said City Clerk Barbara Jones.