The state's judicial oversight board has leveled misconduct charges against the chief judge of Minnesota Tax Court, alleging that he flouted deadlines, lied to investigators and falsified documents to cover his tracks.
George W. Perez, a 15-year veteran of the tax court, is charged with four counts of violating the state Judicial Conduct Code, according to a complaint filed Tuesday by the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards. The complaint also alleges Perez secretly refused new case assignments. The charges likely will see taxpayers and Perez's judicial colleagues on the stand to testify against him at trial.
Perez's attorney, Frederick Finch, said the charges against his client result from an "honest difference of opinion" on the interpretation of deadlines in an overworked, understaffed court and will be difficult to prove.
"Obviously someone on the board thought Mr. Perez was not doing enough to handle his caseload fast enough," Finch said.
Range of punishment
Board attorney Doug Kelley said the case will be heard by a review panel of a judge, lawyer and civilian. After trial, the panel will issue its findings to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which will issue the final decision. Punishment, if any, could range from a private reprimand to permanent removal from the bench. Perez is currently serving as the only judge on the state's tax court, which is designed for taxpayers to appeal state and local taxes. Two seats are open awaiting new appointments by Gov. Mark Dayton
According to the complaint, when confronted at least twice by his colleagues for missing deadlines, Perez allegedly accused them of picking on him because of his ethnicity or said the quality of decisions was more important than meeting deadlines.
Records dating back to 2002 show that he routinely failed to decide cases within three calendar months after they were submitted, as required by Minnesota law. The complaint lists several cases in which Perez took eight to 18 months to issue orders. He allegedly manipulated the due dates on multiple cases to postpone his decisions. Charges also say that Perez, as one of three judges on the tax court, "unjustifiably increased the workload of his fellow judges" by secretly removing himself from the rotation hearing cases and ordering staff to keep it secret.
When confronted by the board on judicial standards in late 2011, Perez replied that the delays in his decisions were caused by the state government shutdown that year, along with a June surgery, writing: "I am a hard-working judge who devotes more than full time to the duties of my office. I am diligent." However, records show Perez took no sick time during the period he claimed.
In a written response, Perez denied many of the charges against him and said others were misleading. He denied a pattern of delay in deciding cases on time, but admitted from time to time he passed a deadline due to illness or required an extension. He said he did not refuse cases, but rather asked to receive fewer in the rotation to balance the workload among the three judges.
"In my understanding, this is arriving out of a misunderstanding or misinterpretation," Finch said. "Everything else is just embellishment."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921