Judge Who Ruled Against County Loses His Own Tax Appeal Case

Times Staff Writer

An assessment appeals board has rejected an Orange County judge’s argument that he was unfairly singled out when the assessed value of his La Habra condominium rose by more than 18% last year, well above Proposition 13’s 2%-a-year limit.

The three-member appeals board issued its decision Thursday, a day after Superior Court Judge John M. Watson appeared before the board and urged it to reset the appraisal and refund excess taxes.

The board did not explain its decision, other than to say it had sustained county Assessor Webster J. Guillory.

The case involves a rental property of Watson’s, the judge who declared the county’s property assessment method unconstitutional under Proposition 13. Watson told board members that he was not arguing his own assessment on issues similar to the case that came before him, but only on constitutional fairness.


He 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.

That method, called recapturing, involved raising annual assessments greater than Proposition 13’s 2% limit if a property had either dropped in value or stayed flat the previous year. Guillory has taken the case to a state appeals court in Santa Ana; a decision is due within weeks.

In Watson’s appeal, he asked why the assessed value of his two-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath condominium was $195,000 while similar-sized units in his complex were assessed at $138,000 to $164,000.

Larry Bales, 61, a retired Orange County appraiser and well-known whistle-blower, said he was surprised by the board’s decision. “I don’t think they understood the issues,” Bales said. “Here we have a situation where a taxpayer is not being treated equal.”


For Guillory, being upheld by the appeals board wasn’t the point.

“It’s not about won or loss,” Guillory said, “but what is the law. We’ve always maintained that we’ve been applying the law correctly.”

Watson could not be reached for comment Friday on whether he would take legal action.