THANKS TO A WEIRD RULING by a D.C. Superior Court judge, about 75,000 city property owners have recently been informed in turgid official notices that unless they say "no" by a certain deadline, they'll each be dunned for a share $232,832.21 legal fee that's been awarded to Gilbert Hahn Jr. As we get it (which took three slow readings), these particular taxpayers - whether they knew it or not - were in a class by themselves, so to speak, as beneficiaries in a suit brought by Mr. Hahn as counsel for Tom and Marguerie Kelly, et al.It turns out that "et al," in this instance means all Group A" taxpayers. Are you with us so far?
If so, you're probably wondering what is Group A." It consists of property owners whose properties are supposed to be reassessad in odd-numbered years. What happened was that a class-action suit was initiated with Mr. Hahn as the attorney, and the city government was found to have reassessed Group A properties a bit too quickly - to a tune of some $9 million too much. The outcome of it was that the court rolled back these assessments. One result of this us that Group A tax bills are going to be lowered> which is good news for theae property holders.
But another result was that the court awarded Mr. Hahn a fee amounting to 2.6 cent of the $9 million, which brings us to the really interesting part of the story. Judge John Garrett Penn decided that anybody whose tax bill is being lowered by more than $40 should be charged 2.6 per cent of that "saving" as a contribution toward the Hahn bill - inless the taxpayer sends back a postcard form (which needs a stamp, by the way) specifically declining to pay a share. Moreover, the judge designated the city government to collect the fee.
We should note that Mr. Hahn says he had asked the judge to charge the city instead of the homeowners. He also said the city will not have to make up the difference between tha amount due him and the amount that people chip in. Now, that being the case, we assume that people who say "no" are not costing the city extra; they're merely shaving Mr. Hahn's fee.
Regardless of what people may decide to do, this is a peculiar procedure - with the government put in the role of soliciting among certain taxpayers for costs of a suit brought by a attorney whom they didn't necessarily agree to engage, on behalf of two people whom they may or may not know.
Obviously, the taxpayers who benefited in this case aren't likely to insist on paying the old higher bill; Mr. Hahn's victory is a welcome one. But under an arrangement in which the city government is required to collect for a private individual, who knows what its next collection might be for? Perhaps someone who doesn't get that refusal card back on time will sue for his $2 back - and all the people in Subgroup 1/Group A/Income Level 7(c) will be hit for part of the legal fee - unless, of course, they refuse to play. . .