BOISE – A unanimous Idaho Supreme Court has rejected state Rep. Phil Hart’s state income tax appeal, ruling that the lawmaker has “no greater privilege than his constituents.”
Hart had cited legislative privilege in his repeated appeals of an order to pay more than $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest. He filed his appeal months after the 91-day appeal period had expired, but argued that because the deadline fell shortly before the start of a legislative session, he should get more time.
In a seven-page opinion authored by Justice Jim Jones, the unanimous court held 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 in its ruling. “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.”
Hart could not be reached for comment, but in a statement posted to one of his websites he expressed disappointment in the ruling.
“It is but another phase of my quest for justice,” Hart wrote.
The court also dismissed Hart’s argument that 4th District Judge John Mitchell abused his discretion by refusing to delay a motion hearing in the case when Hart was in Boise, saying 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, was ordered in 2008 to pay the back state income taxes, penalties and interest. The state Tax Commission issued the order for paying no income taxes from 1996 through 1998, and for underpaying for the tax years 1999 to 2004.
Hart protested the decision and sought several delays, but a final order was issued on Oct. 2, 2009, ordering him to pay $53,523. Interest has continued to accrue since then, and the amount due is now likely closer to $57,000. He’s now appealed the order 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.