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Homeowner Suit Takes Issue With County Assessing

Homeowner Suit Takes Issue With County Assessing

LAW -Amanda Bronstad

An Orange County judge’s ruling last month could have major ramifications among homeowners though attorneys around town are still scratching their heads about the possible outcomes.

Superior Court Judge John Watson ruled on Nov. 2 that the Orange County Tax Assessor’s Office improperly assessed property taxes by more than 2 percent per year, the maximum amount allowable under Proposition 13. The county contends that the larger increase is warranted because the 2 percent annual increases were forgone during the mid-1990s, when property values slid.

If the property owners who brought suit against the Orange County Tax Assessor’s Office obtain class action status, the case could potentially save money for property owners. Class action status is still pending.

What property taxpayers may not realize is how the tax assessor computes the value of their home for tax purposes, said Michael Smooke, a tax attorney with Fulbright & Jaworski LLP.

On a $500,000 house in 1996, for example, a taxpayer may have gotten his assessment rolled back to $450,000 in 1997. If the assessor now adds six years of 2-percent-a-year increases on a $500,000 house, that’s 12 percent without compounding, which brings the house’s assessed value to $560,000. Taxpayers might assume the taxable value would start at $450,000, which would bring the new value to $504,000 a difference of $56,000. With property taxes levied at 1.2 percent of assessed value, that would compute to a $672 difference in the annual tax bill.

Paramount Plight

A small New York company that sells promotional and closed captioning spots for Paramount Pictures claims it should be allowed out of its contract because the country is at war, according to a breach-of-contract lawsuit it filed Nov. 26 in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Edward E. Finch & Co. Inc. is represented by New York attorney Allan Samuels, along with Robert Hayden and Phillip Maltin of Konowiecki & Rank LLP in L.A.

The New York company claims it signed a contract on July 7, 2000 to sell fee and closed captioning spots for Paramount TV programs, including “Entertainment Tonight” and “Dr. Laura,” with a guaranteed revenue of $14.6 million. But it now points to a “force majeure” clause that describes “changed economic conditions” as a reason to void the contract.

Paramount Pictures executives did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Flight 587

Los Angeles is home to one of the first lawsuits filed against American Airlines for negligence over its Flight 587 crash Nov. 12, 2001, in Belle Harbor, N.Y.

The suit, filed by Moses Perez of Los Angeles and his sister, Maria Perez of New York, was filed Nov. 27 on behalf of Jose Antonio Perez, their father, a passenger who died in the crash. The suit also names aircraft manufacturer Airbus Industrie.

Staff reporter Amanda Bronstad can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 225, or at


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