Private Law Firm Will Help Supervisors With Tax Battle

The Orange County Board of Supervisors Tuesday authorized the hiring of an outside law firm to defend the county against a lawsuit from Sacramento over who should get more than $73 million in Orange County property tax.

In a unanimous vote, supervisors gave interim Auditor-Controller Jan Grimes authority to hire Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk. Firm partner Thomas W. Hiltachk, once legal counsel to former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will be the lead lawyer working with the county, according to Supervisor John Moorlach.

The Sacramento lawsuit demands that the county return $73 million in property tax that former Auditor-Controller David Sundstrom withheld earlier this year in defiance of Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget allocations.

The suit stems from the discovery last year that the county had failed to protect its right to $48 million in vehicle license fee revenue and an effort by Brown to take the money to help defray the state’s massive budget deficit.

The supervisors responded to Brown’s action by authorizing Sundstrom to withhold  the $73 million in property tax. State officials say that action is illegal, but the county argues that law requires it.

“It’s an issue where we have a governor that’s not afraid to litigate everything, even when he’s wrong,” Moorlach said.

He said the county agreed to provide Grimes with independent legal counsel based on the advice of County Counsel Nick Chrisos.