NJ Appeals Court rules assessors are not barred from testifying for taxpayers in another jurisdiction.
A New Jersey state appeals court ruled there was no law or regulation in place to prevent the Wall Township tax assessor, working for a private firm, from testifying on behalf of a business owner challenging a property value assessment in another town.
The three-judge Appellate Division Panel found that the Tax Court exceeded its authority by barring the assessor from testifying in a case brought by a retail property owner against Hazlet Township. The property owner was represented by Skoloff & Wolfe.
“Our client owns a lot in Hazlet with a vacant, rundown retail building on it that the township assessed for $4.4 million in 2013 to $4.6 million in 2017,” said David Wolfe, co-managing partner of Skoloff & Wolfe. “With this ruling the state appeals court has ensured that taxpayers have the freedom to hire the most qualified experts to appraise their properties, even as an assessor might also serve as municipal tax assessor in another jurisdiction.”
The appeals panel rejected Hazlet’s contention that a 1974 New Jersey tax regulation barred assessors from acting as expert witnesses against other assessors except when defending their own taxing district. The Appellate Division also ruled that there was no evidence that the expert violated the New Jersey ethics laws applicable to local government employees.
As reported by law360.com, the Tax Court had found that to uphold the public’s trust, an assessor may only appear on the government’s behalf in Tax Court cases. Skoloff & Wolfe appealed the decision, contending that no such preclusion existed, and argued that such a preclusion would deprive taxpayers of the experts of their choice, and create an unequal playing field in the Tax Court.
The appeals judges agreed, writing that no tax law or regulation “expressly bars an assessor in one municipality from testifying in Tax Court for a private taxpayer from another town.” Furthermore, the panel emphasized the ruling was in line with the local ethics law which “does not categorically prohibit a tax assessor from performing work for a taxpayer who contests an assessment.”
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