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Judge in Tax Case Appeals Condo Bill

John M. Watson, who ruled that a common assessment method is illegal, disputes an 18.6% tax increase for his property in La Habra.

October 02, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

The Orange County judge who two years ago ruled that a property tax assessment practice used throughout California violated the state Constitution is appealing his own tax bill on a La Habra condominium.

Superior Court Judge John M. Watson wants to know why his property's estimated market value rose 41% in one year, resulting in an 18.6% increase in his bill. A hearing before an assessment appeals board has been scheduled for Jan. 28.

Watson ruled in December 2001 that an assessment method used by Orange County and every other county assessor in the state violated Proposition 13, the landmark tax reduction measure approved by California voters in 1978. The method, called recapturing, involves raising annual assessments greater than Proposition 13's 2% limit if a property had either dropped in value or stayed flat the previous year. That case is under appeal to the 4th District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana. Oral arguments before the court are scheduled Dec. 16.

Watson held a conference call in late August to warn attorneys for the county that he was considering an appeal on his property. He said he wanted his intentions on the record because county attorneys had tried to remove him from the case. Watson told the attorneys that he was disturbed by his latest bill and that identical condos near his had increased just 2%.

The judge said he later received a letter from the assessor's office explaining that the assessment reflected the recent sale of three properties in the area. If that was so, other properties should have gotten the same increase, he said. He filed his appeal nine days later.

Neither Watson nor assessors officials responded to requests for comment Wednesday.

Assessor officials have defended the recapturing method as legal.

In his assessment appeal, Watson said the assessor raised the estimated market value on his property from $165,000 last year to $233,000 this year. The assessed value was set at $195,644. A year earlier it had risen from $150,000 to $165,000.

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