BOISE — A unanimous Idaho Supreme Court has rejected state Rep. Phil Hart’s appeal of an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest on grounds of legislative privilege.
In a seven-page opinion authored by Justice Jim Jones, the unanimous court held today that the Idaho Constitution’s legislative privilege clause from arrest or “civil process” during legislative sessions didn’t protect Hart, or permit him to file his state tax appeal months later than anyone else would have been allowed to.
“Hart’s untenable argument flows from his misunderstanding of the word ‘process,’” Jones wrote. “In this case, Hart was not obligated to do anything but pay his taxes.” The state didn’t try to “compel Hart’s appearance before a tribunal,” the court wrote. “No court sought to hold Hart responsible for a new legal obligation. No sheriff or other agent of the State sought to arrest Hart or compel him to appear anywhere or take any other action. In other words, no one tried to hold Hart liable to civil process. Rather, Hart sought to avail himself of … appeals procedures, which he had until January 4, 2010 to do. He missed that deadline by almost three months.”
Wrote the court, “In this instance, Hart is just a taxpayer, with no greater privilege than his constituents.”
The court also dismissed Hart’s argument that 4th District Judge John Mitchell abused his discretion by refusing to delay a motion hearing when Hart was in Boise participating in a legislative debate; he wasn’t required to attend the hearing. The high court wrote, “Hart’s argument on this issue is devoid of reasoned analysis or relevant authority.”
The court awarded attorney fees and costs to the state. “Hart’s position here is groundless,” Jones wrote.
Hart’s first court appeal in his state income tax case charged that Idaho’s state income tax is unconstitutional; that argument wasn’t considered, because the appeal was thrown out for being filed too late.
Hart, a tax protester who stopped filing both federal and state income tax returns for three years in the 1990s, while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit charging the federal income tax was unconstitutional, had 91 days to appeal his order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest for tax years 1996 to 2004, but instead waited more than six months, saying an intervening legislative session entitled him to more time. Because it was too late, his appeal was rejected, a decision he’s now unsuccessfully appealed five times.
Hart, R-Athol, is a fourth-term state lawmaker who’s currently seeking re-election to a fifth term; the Idaho primary election is May 15.