Attorneys Say LA County Charges Illegal Fees

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – Los Angeles County illegally requires thousands of attorneys who represent clients with property tax disputes to register as “tax agents” and pay $250 a year for it, a law firm claims in a class action.
     Owen Kaye, with Givner & Kaye, sued the county and its Board of Supervisors on April 7 in Superior Court.
     Kaye claims a 2013 county ordinance violates California’s State Bar Act and “contravenes the authority of the California Supreme Court” by attempting to regulate attorneys.
     He claims the ordinance (Chapter 2.165) also violates the due process, equal protection and takings clauses of the federal and state constitutions, and the 1996 California ballot measure, Proposition 218.
     The ordinance requires anyone who represents clients in property tax disputes before the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board to register as a tax agent, pay a $250 annual fee, plus “an unlawful processing fee of $5.62.”
     Thousands of those tax agents are attorneys, Kaye says.
     “Plaintiffs have been compelled to register as tax agents in order to practice law before the assessment appeals board, and have been compelled to pay unlawful registration and processing fees,” the complaint states. The ordinance “prohibits the practice of law unless the registration remains current.”
     Givner & Kaye specializes in estate planning. Kaye declined to comment. His attorney Robert Pool said many California counties have special boards to hear property assessment and tax cases, but Los Angeles is the only one that requires taxpayer representatives to register and pay a fee.
     Neither Pool nor co-counsel Stephen Harris would discuss details of the lawsuit. But Harris cited a similar case from 1970.
     In Baron v. City of Los Angeles, the California Supreme Court held that attorneys could be required to register as lobbyists “to appear at hearings considering local legislation in order to argue for or against the adoption of that legislation.”
     However, they could not be made to register to engage in duties or services that may be performed “only by an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of California.”
     If a local ordinance tries to regulate the practice of law, “it invades a field of regulation preempted by state law,” the state Supreme Court ruled.
     Owen seeks class certification, declaratory judgment, an injunction, an accounting, refunds, and damages of $1 million, or an amount “equal to the unlawful fees paid by plaintiff and the class on or after March 30, 2105.”
     Los Angeles County Counsel’s office said it had not yet seen the case and could not comment on it.
     Attorney Harris’s office is in Woodland Hills; Pool’s is in Bellflower.

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