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Court Rules Council Members Cannot Join Lawsuit Alleging Property Taxes Discriminate

Martha Stark TENNY Director Martha Stark, Director of Policy for TENNY/ (Oct. 5, 2017).

NEW YORK CITY—A state court judge has stopped five New York City council members from joining a case alleging New York City’s property taxes illegally discriminate and need to be reformed. On Wednesday, the court ruled they could not file their amicus brief using a private attorney, as reported in the New York Daily News.

“The decision is a narrow one. It was decided based upon a statute that requires the corporation counsel serve as the sole attorney for New York City and its agencies,” Jonathan Stein, counsel in the tax group of Goulston & Storrs, tells GlobeSt.com. His law firm is not a party in this case.

The council members filed their motion in their representative capacities as city officials. Judge Gerald Lebovits wrote the city charter required using the corporation counsel to represent them. Corporation counsel will not represent the council members as it is representing the city and department of finance as defendants.

Stein notes the city council members could try to revise their amicus (“friend of the court”) brief, filed in their individual capacities. “However, doing so could blunt the persuasiveness and weight accorded to the brief,” says Stein.

“Although city council members could appeal the decision, the success of such an appeal is a long shot,” he adds. He believes that ultimately the advocacy organization, Tax Equity Now New York (TENNY), will likely find another avenue to get the views of these elected representatives before the court in the litigation.

Council members told the Daily News they planned to appeal, with Councilman Ritchie Torres (D-Bronx) saying he has a right to challenge a tax system that is discriminating against his constituents, asserting the mayor’s position is not in the city’s best interests.

The order notes that Jason Otaño, general counsel for the New York City Council, takes no position on the merits of the amicus brief but the council supports the request of the five members to have it considered by the court.

As previously reported in GlobeSt.com, the lawsuit claims the city’s property tax system is regressive and unfairly shifts tax burdens from wealthy Manhattan co-op and condo owners to renters and homeowners in outer boroughs, primarily occupied by racial and ethnic minorities and lower-income residents.

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