Argument on property reassessment off

November 9, 2012

Commonwealth Court was scheduled to hear oral arguments in the Washington County property reassessment case next week in Pittsburgh, but the judges have decided to decide the matter solely on briefs previously submitted by the litigants.

Robert Grimm, who has represented the county previously in insurance matters, was to argue against the property reassessment sought by the Washington and McGuffey school districts, represented by Susan Mondik Key, on Tuesday.

Grimm asked the appellate court to postpone arguments because he expected to be tied up in a medical malpractice suit in Allegheny County Court.

The malpractice trial, which would have lasted at least through Friday, involved “complex issues, extensive expert testimony and eight different defendants,” Grimm wrote in his application for a postponement. He said he will need to be present for the entire trial, which would make him unavailable for oral argument in the reassessment case.

In his request for postponement, Grimm said he contacted counsel for the school districts but the attorney “has not consented” to a change in the date.

The malpractice case before Allegheny County Judge Paul Lutty was settled, but oral argument before Commonwealth Court was not reinstated.

This November marks the fourth year since the school districts took their request for a countywide reassessment to Washington County Court.

In an opinion she wrote in May, Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca summed up the issue before the appellate court as “simply a last-ditch effort by the (commissioners) to get out of an agreement they hoped they would not have to perform.” She said that in 2008 the parties came to an agreement on the outcome of the case, and that she signed an order prepared by the commissioners.

Commission Chairman Larry Maggi disagrees with that view, saying the board, which then included Commissioner Bracken Burns, stipulated to facts it could not argue.

Washington County’s last property reassessment took effect in 1981. The commissioners claim the matter is in flux legislatively, and the county could be forced to spend up to $8 million of county taxpayers’ money.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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