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Taxpayers sue appraisal district, chief appraiser

Tuesday, October 9, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Two companies who employ appraisers to represent residential and commercial property owners to challenge appraisals before the Travis County Appraisal Review Board and 159 of their clients have sued the review board and Chief Appraiser Marya Crigler in her official capacity.

The lawsuit, which was filed on Monday by attorney Bill Aleshire, alleges that the defendants participated in “unlawful manipulation and corruption of the 2018 tax appraisal protest process in Travis County that leaves property owners without the Appraisal Review Board hearing to which they are entitled by law.”

According to the suit, Crigler and her chief deputy, Lonnie Hendry, engaged in a scheme to overschedule specific appraisers working for Texas Protax-Austin and Five Stone Tax Advisers so that it would be impossible to attend all of the hearings at the same time.

The suit says Crigler and Hendry “exercise their power in prejudicial and grossly unfair ways.” In 2017, the suit says Hendry demanded that one Protax agent, Dave Brown, meet with him in person and then demanded that Brown withdraw an arbitration appeal.

“Based on Mr. Brown’s recollection, Chief Deputy Hendry threatened with the words, ‘If you don’t withdraw, I’ll use every means at my disposal to make your life as miserable as possible every time you walk through the Appraisal District’s door.’ Brown did not withdraw the arbitration and was successful in the arbitration appeal.

“Chief Deputy Appraiser Hendry made good on his threat in the 2018 appraisal protest season by interfering in Mr. Brown’s opportunity to settle appraisal protests informally and by deliberately over-scheduling Mr. Brown to be in protest hearings, for accounts he was the assigned agent for, in such a way as to make it impossible (for) him to attend the hearings.”

Even though the review board had protest hearings over a 17-day period, “Hendry, with Marya Crigler’s agreement, scheduled all of David Brown’s hearings, 517 of them, on just 3 days in 5 ARB panels simultaneously,” the lawsuit states. On July 3, for example, Hendry scheduled Brown for 185 hearings in four ARB panels simultaneously. On July 5, Brown was scheduled for 170 hearings in five panels simultaneously and the following day he was scheduled for 162 hearings in five different panels, according to the lawsuit.

Such scheduling caused “the unlawful dismissal of appraisal protests without a hearing,” the lawsuit says. In fact, the district is accused of illegally dismissing the protest hearings and not notifying the property owners or their representatives that the protests had been dismissed.

The suit asks the court to issue an injunction requiring the review board to grant hearings for the plaintiffs on their 2018 appraisal protests.

The lawsuit states that appraisal board Chair Betty Thompson “told both Protax and Five Stone that hearings that were not reached under the schedule, would be rolled over to be heard later, but after Ms. Thompson spoke to Marya Crigler and Lonnie Hendry, she changed her mind and orally indicated that any protest hearings not reached as scheduled (by Marya Crigler) would be dismissed.”

No one at the appraisal review board could be reached for comment on Monday, and a recording at the office stated that employees were observing a holiday.

The Austin Monitor asked Aleshire whether this is the first time his clients have had such problems with the appraisal review board. Aleshire said his clients have had problems for the last two or three years, but “this is the worst it’s ever been.”

In addition to the allegations concerning scheduling of the hearings, the lawsuit states that the board has violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. “No meeting notice in 2018 of the Travis Appraisal Review Board contained an agenda subject item to dismiss appraisal protests,” the lawsuit notes. And the plaintiffs note that an action taken by a governmental body in violation of the act is voidable, so the plaintiffs are asking the court to reverse the review board’s actions.

The lawsuit also states that the chief appraiser does not have the authority to schedule ARB panel hearings or to select which protests are heard by which panel, so plaintiffs are also seeking an injunction to permanently enjoin Crigler, her staff, and her successors in office from scheduling appraisal protest hearings or selecting the panel of the ARB that will hear the protest.

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Photo courtesy of the Travis Central Appraisal District.

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