Judge rejects complaint over tax meeting
CARSON CITY (AP) – A Nevada attorney general’s lawsuit against the state Tax Commission, for a closed-door vote giving Southern California Edison a $40 million tax refund, was tossed out Tuesday by a district judge.
The state argued that Nevada’s open meeting law prevented such closed-door actions, but Carson City District Judge Mike Griffin said another state law provides an exception – and for years other attorneys general and their deputies never warned the commission against closed sessions.
The judge said he wasn’t buying the state’s argument that “all of the prior deputy attorneys general were young, inexperienced or just ignorant of the law when they were participating in all of the closed hearings over the past decade.”
Southern California Edison requested a closed appeal proceeding and “the taxpayer was granted confidentiality, based upon the past practices of the commission, and, in this court’s opinion, the correct interpretation of the law,” Griffin wrote.
Griffin added that in “harmonizing” the two clashing state laws, he determined that state lawmakers “intended to provide … confidentiality in all appeal proceedings before the commission. All other proceedings before the commission are open, including the results of the deliberations.”
The Tax Commission ruling – which would give some Nevadans a break on utility bills – exempted Southern California Edison from sales taxes that otherwise would have been due on coal it burned between 2001 and 2003 in its southern Nevada power plant.
The open meeting law dispute has already resulted in a $450,000 bill from a Reno law firm that defended the Tax Commission. That amount was recently authorized for the McDonald, Carano and Wilson law firm by the state Board of Examiners.
Attorney General George Chanos serves on the examiners’ board but abstained from voting because his office sued the commission for not following the open meeting law in the 2005 utility refund case.
Chanos inherited the case from former Attorney General Brian Sandoval, who filed the suit several months before leaving office last year to take a federal judgeship, and who initially approved the Tax Commission’s hiring of private counsel to defend itself.
Sandoval contended that state law allowed the commission to meet in private to take testimony from taxpayers, but panel members had to meet in public to deliberate and vote.