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Judge Shuffle Continues in LA’s High-Stakes Measure ULA Tax Legal Battle

Third Attempt to Secure Impartial Judge as Legal Challenge Heats Up

By Dolores Quintana

The Los Angeles Superior Court is still in search of a judge to preside over the highly-anticipated legal battle concerning the city’s contentious Measure ULA transfer tax. 

The second judge designated for the case, Superior Court Judge Joseph Lipner, stepped down from his role after overseeing proceedings for approximately ten days. During this period, a report by TRD (The Real Deal) featured comments from an attorney involved in the civil suit, who raised concerns about Judge Lipner’s suitability for the case.

The lawsuit, titled “Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association et al. vs. the City of Los Angeles,” involves multiple parties. Landlord Newcastle Courtyards and the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles are among the plaintiffs, while the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing is a defendant.

In an article published by TRD on August 11, Keith Fromm, an attorney representing Newcastle, questioned Judge Lipner’s suitability due to his prior association with the law firm Irell & Manella, which represents the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing in this case. Fromm remarked, “To put it bluntly, whatever the reality may be, the appearance stinks. Without in any way casting any aspersions on Judge Lipner, I would hope that he would follow the most ethical and ‘above reproach’ course and simply recuse himself from this case.”

On August 15, the plaintiffs submitted a request for a new judge.

Judge Lipner officially recused himself in court documents filed on August 17. As of now, a replacement judge has not been assigned, and the next hearing is scheduled for September 21. The case’s initial judge, Curtis Kin, previously announced in May that he would be reassigned to the Los Angeles Superior Court’s Writ and Receivers Department.

In the August 17 court filing, Judge Lipner cited the California civil code, which stipulates that a judge should request recusal if it is believed that doing so would serve the interests of justice, if the judge doubts their capacity to remain impartial, or if a reasonable person following the case might entertain doubts about the judge’s impartiality. There was no further information about why Judge Lipner recused himself. 

Keith Fromm expressed satisfaction with the handling of the case thus far, stating, “Judge Lipner did the right thing and recused himself from this case. It is a tenet of law that not only must justice be done, but that it must be seen to be done.”

Whoever the judge that will be assigned to the case is to make the decision about whether or not the City has the legal power to impose the transfer tax, which levies a 4 percent tax on real property transfers valued between $5 million and $10 million, and a 5.5 percent tax on transfers exceeding $10 million in gross value.

Within this legal battle, some plaintiffs argue that Measure ULA introduces a “special tax” that local governments lack the authority to impose. Others contend that the tax violates the Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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