The former chief judge of Minnesota’s Tax Court on Wednesday accused the state’s Judicial Standards Board of conducting an overzealous investigation of his actions that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
George Perez’s remarks came just after the state Supreme Court issued a disciplinary action that he said he would have accepted a year ago, when misconduct allegations were filed against him with the Minnesota Board on Judicial Standards.
The court ordered a public censure of Perez for failing to issue decisions in a timely manner and for making false statements in those decisions. It wrote that while his offenses did not warrant removal, they did seriously undermine the integrity of the judicial system.
Perez claims that in November 2012, he took responsibility for the violations and sought to work out a deal with the Judicial Standards Board but that the board, which wanted him removed from the bench, just added more charges, which were later dismissed.
On the final day of the 2013 legislative session, the board’s investigation triggered a letter from Gov. Mark Dayton that asked the Senate to reject Perez for another term on the bench.
Attorney William Egan, a member of the board, said that history and the court’s ruling Wednesday reinforce the argument that Perez’s behavior was unacceptable. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said in reference to Perez’s delays in filing.
The board wouldn’t have spent the time it did investigating any case in which a judge quickly admitted he had engaged in misconduct, Egan said. Perez did not do so, thus there was a full investigation, he said.
Egan said he believes that the investigation cost about $200,000 but said he would have to review documents to determine the exact amount.
Perez said that at least $125,000 was initially spent to investigate his case and that the board’s former executive director, David Paull, sought and received an additional $300,000 from the Legislature, although he didn’t know how much of it was spent on his case.
“An enormous amount of taxpayer money was wasted on this case,” Perez said. “And for this outcome?”
Many missed deadlines
Perez, 54, was an estate tax attorney for the IRS when Gov. Arne Carlson appointed him to the Tax Court in 1997. He and two other Tax Court judges heard property tax appeals brought by homeowners and businesses.
He became chief judge in 2001 and was reappointed two more times, including by Dayton in 2011.
In November 2012, the Judicial Standards Board leveled four allegations in a disciplinary petition against Perez. It claimed that he regularly missed the three-month deadline for issuing opinions, falsified dates to hide the delays, refused to accept new cases and made false representations to the board during its investigation.
His attorney, Fred Finch, said Perez was willing to accept punishment for 10 cases that involved missed deadlines, a mistake he attributed to erroneous procedure he’d learned as a new judge.
“We argued to the court that the appropriate discipline was censure, and we could have easily made an agreement with the board,” Finch said. “The board consistently attempted to impose more substantial discipline. For some reason, they wanted to make World War III out of this case.”
In March, the state Supreme Court appointed a three-member panel to hear the case. It rejected Perez’s argument that the filing statutes were ambiguous and said he knew about the three-month requirement to file decisions after submission. But it did not find that Perez refused to accept new cases or made false representations to the board.
The panel still recommended to the court that Perez be censured, be suspended without pay for nine months and be prohibited from serving out the rest of his term as chief judge.
Perez feels exonerated
Because Perez was already off the bench, the Supreme Court ordered public censure, meaning it found that he committed serious misconduct. The court cited the cases of the only three judges whom it has removed from the bench since 1972, saying that their misconduct was worse than Perez’s.
Since Perez is licensed to practice law in Wisconsin, the court’s opinion will be sent to the Wisconsin Office of Lawyer Regulation for possible additional discipline. But Finch said that Perez has a strong judicial record and that very few of his opinions were overturned by the Supreme Court.
Perez said that he feels exonerated by Wednesday’s order and that the facts of his case haven’t changed since the beginning.
“If I was still sitting on the bench, I would deal with the discipline and they would tell me to get back to work,” he said.