With two days left to take up a variety of major bills, including a significant overhaul of the state tax code, Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to put one more item on the Senate’s plate. This morning, Dayton submitted a letter to Senate Taxes Committee Chair Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, calling on Skoe to begin Senate proceedings to remove Chief Tax Court Judge George Perez. Perez, an appointee of Gov. Arne Carlson who has served on the tax court since 1997, was the subject of a disciplinary ruling from a three-judge panel earlier this month.
Following a lengthy investigation into Perez’s conduct, a three-judge panel found that Perez had engaged in a pattern of delaying his judicial rulings long beyond allowed deadlines, as well as falsifying the dates on a number of his cases in an attempt to keep himself in compliance with deadline statutes.
Perez, who became the court’s chief judge in 2001 and served in that role until the allegations surfaced, has been reappointed to his position four times, most recently by Dayton in 2011. Later that year, the state Board of Judicial Standards brought initial allegations of misconduct against Perez, alleging that he had missed mandatory three month deadlines in a series of cases dating back to 2002. The board also accused Perez of having repeatedly adjusted the filing dates on cases to make it appear that he had ruled swiftly, when, in fact, Perez had taken as much as 18 months to decide cases before him.
In its harshly worded ruling, the three-judge panel highlighted individual cases where Perez had lapsed on his duties. In one instance from 2002, a taxpayer whose case was before Perez was informed that the judge had come down with an illness. The defendant was led to believe that the ruling would be delayed a matter of days while Perez recovered.
“Judge Perez,” wrote the three-judge panel, “did not issue his decision in the next couple of days, or in the next couple of weeks, or even in the next year. He did not issue a decision until January 14, 2004, more than 14 months after the decision was due.”
In light of Perez’s conduct, the panel recommended that he be suspended without pay for nine months, and removed from his position as chief judge. Attorney Frederick Finch, who represented Perez in the proceedings, told the Star Tribune last week that Perez planned to appeal the ruling to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which has received the panel’s recommendations and now has jurisdiction on the case.
Dayton is now prepared to go one step further than the panel’s recommendation, pushing for the immediate removal of Perez from the court. In his letter to Skoe, which was also sent to Senate leadership, Dayton wrote, “Had I known about the Board’s findings, I would not have reappointed him to the Tax Court.” Dayton’s message requests that Skoe make a motion on the Senate floor to call for a confirmation vote of Perez, and that the Senate then vote to reject the motion, writing that the Senate should take up the issue before its adjournment deadline of midnight on Monday.
“I believe that Judge Perez’s reported misconduct violates the integrity of our state’s judicial system, and that his continued service is not in the best interest of Minnesota citizens,” Dayton wrote. “Please reject the confirmation so that I may appoint a new Tax Court Judge to better serve the interest of Minnesotans.”