What the NH Dept. of Justice Said About Smith v. Ayotte
Read their misleading and factually inaccurate case summary, reprinted from the NH Dept. of Justice Biennial Report, 2004-2005.
From NH DOJ 2004/2005 Biennial Report, pp. 25-26:
"In Smith v. Ayotte, residents of Hollis and Hudson challenged the process of assessing the value of homes. Specifically, New Hampshire law allows assessors to enter property for the purpose of determining its assessed value. If a homeowner does not wish to have an assessor enter the property, the homeowner loses the right to appeal any subsequent assessment. This was challenged in federal court on constitutional grounds. The federal court dismissed the case on jurisdictional grounds and further stated that there was nothing unreasonable about the process."
This sounds perfectly logical, but before you conclude that justice was done...
What they forgot to mention:
They forgot to mention that the case was all about the interior inspection, i.e. entering people's homes. They talk only about entering "property", which sounds innocuous enough. The plaintiffs in Smith v. Ayotte did allow assessors to enter their property, just not their homes. As the US Supreme Court said in 1980, "Physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed."
They forgot to mention that the homeowner loses "all rights of appeal", even if he or she wants to appeal some aspect of their assessment that has nothing to do with the interior of the house. Two of the plaintiffs in Smith v. Ayotte tried to appeal their land valuations. Mr. Smith, in particular, challenged the so-called "site index", one number assigned to all of the properties on his street.
They also forgot to mention that the unconstitutional law authorizes the assessor to obtain an administrative warrant that allows him to enter the home anyway (refusing entry when a warrant is presented is a crime).
What they got wrong:
They said the homeowners challenged the assessment "process", when in fact they challenged the state law (RSA 74:17) that punishes homeowners who refuse an interior inspection with loss of all appeal rights and authorizes the issuing of warrants to assessing officials.
They wrote that the federal court "stated that there was nothing unreasonable about the process", when the court actually made no such statement. In contrast, what the court actually wrote was "the court notes that nothing in this order should be construed as expressing an opinion on the merits of any of the plaintiffs' claims."
Why aren't they telling the public the truth, the whole story? The NH DOJ's case summary is deceptive at best and an insult to those who know the real story. The NH Attorney General and DOJ are required by law to defend the constitutionality of all laws enacted by the legislature, but this distortion of the facts goes far beyond their job description.
You can send NH Attorney General Kelly Ayotte your thoughts on her department's reporting of this case at email@example.com. To send her this page with your comments, click on the envelope icon in the upper right.