Bar association studying Allegheny council vote on assessment appeals
The Allegheny County Bar Association is reviewing whether non-lawyers representing property owners in assessment appeals violates the law.
“We're doing some internal investigation of whether we should take some action,” said Mark Vuono, bar association president.
County Council sparked the bar association's interest when it voted 12-1 this month to scrap a plan from the Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review that would have required property owners who hire someone to appeal their assessments to use an attorney.
“Is business bad? This is nothing more than (lawyers) creating an oligopoly and making money,” said Councilman Jim Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, who led the argument in rejecting the attorney rule. “This isn't a court of law. I don't see how it's a trial. It's not even a legal hearing.”
Family, friends and others who represent people for free would have been exempt under the board's plan. A real estate appraiser or agent, for example, would not have been.
The same issue prompted the Allegheny County Bar Association to sue the board in 1999, which resulted in a settlement two years later. The terms said real estate professionals can assist property owners in filing appeals and can submit documentary evidence. Non-lawyers, however, could not present arguments on behalf of the property owner, cite case law or cross-examine witnesses.
Vuono and Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, argued that bad lawyers can be disciplined while people who are not lawyers and do a poor job are not subjected to the same standards.
“I'm trying to protect the public, not the lawyers,” Heidelbaugh said.
Several real estate brokers spoke out against the proposed rule, including Jerry Speer, owner of Equity Real Estate Services in Squirrel Hill.
“I agree that non-lawyers should not be practicing law, but neither should non-appraisers be acting as appraisers. There are very few, if any, legal issues at the appeals board level,” said Speer, who serves on the board of directors for the Realtors Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania Association of Realtors. “The issue is value.”
David Montgomery, solicitor for the Board of Property Assessment Appeals and Review, has said the board has “seen a lot of problems with non-attorneys in terms of the quality and consistency.”
The board has heard more than 103,000 appeals from last year's controversial property reassessment with more than 1,100 left to decide. It also has more than 15,000 appeals to hear from this year.
William Hoffmeyer, co-chairman of the Unauthorized Practice of Law Committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, said he plans to send a letter to County Council informing it that non-lawyer representation violates existing case law.
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PennDOT says inbound Fort Pitt Tunnel will close around-the-clock this weekend
- Uber gains PUC approval to operate in most of Pa. for 2 years
- Wintry mix of rain, freezing rain and snow bearing down on Pittsburgh area
- Psychiatrist: Man accused of setting Homestead fire not competent to stand trial
- Woman, 77, dies in Monroeville house fire
- 2 arrested in Wilkinsburg shooting
- Pa. police departments worry order on criminal seizures hurts bottom line
- Propel school sends students home because of phone threat
- Pipelines key to growth in shale industry
- Federal grand jury indicts man for violating poultry law while operating illegal slaughterhouse in his Jefferson Hills home
- Police stop car in Beltzhoover, find body in back seat