Judge Puts Off Ruling on Taxes Till March


An Orange County judge will wait until at least March to decide whether to expand countywide his ruling that an assessment method that raised the tax bill on a Seal Beach home is unconstitutional.

Superior Court Judge John M. Watson asked attorneys for homeowner Rob Pool, who filed the original suit, to define whom the ruling should apply to before a March 11 hearing.

County Assessor Webster J. Guillory has until March 4, the day before he faces reelection in the primary, to appeal Watson's ruling. If he does, further action at the Superior Court level would be postponed until the appellate court upholds or overturns Watson's decision.

Earlier this month, the Orange County Board of Supervisors declined to appeal the ruling, saying it was up to Guillory to defend his assessment practices. Guillory hasn't said whether he will appeal.

Watson ruled in December that some Orange County property assessments violated Proposition 13, the landmark tax reform measure passed by California voters in 1978. The judge ruled that Guillory, following a practice used by assessors statewide, illegally raised the assessed value of Pool's home by more than the 2%-a-year limit set by Proposition 13.

County attorneys have defended the practice, used after properties have dropped in value and had their assessments lowered. When the values rebound, the new assessments routinely exceed the 2% limit--a method called recapturing.

Pool and his attorneys want Watson to expand the ruling into a class-action suit. Watson pondered Tuesday whether tax relief should be limited to those who appealed past property tax bills or should include everyone who "sat on the beach" and thought about appealing but didn't.

Watson also said he has heard that some taxpayers were told by government workers that appealing their assessments would be fruitless because the recapturing method was legal. "That was erroneous [advice], according to this court," Watson said.

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