Antonin Scalia paves the way for change

It’s always a shock when a justice of the Supreme Court dies.  Love ’em, hate ’em, agree or disagree, they are part of a small, elite group of jurists who set the course of justice for an entire country.  Once appointed, they hold their position for life, so it should come as no surprise that to replace one is news making.

I had the honor of meeting Justice Antonin Scalia on the very same day, ten years ago, that I also met Justice Samuel Alito.  For an Italian-American attorney, this was the double-header, to say that I have studied under two justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Heck, it was only a CLE course but how many attorneys can say they got up close and personal with two of The Supremes?

Actually, up close and personal was not exactly what Justice Scalia would allow.  As you can see from the photo, he was not the warm and fuzzy kind and did not want his photo taken with anyone.  Alito, on the other hand, was only too happy to pose when approached with respect and not expectation.

Justice Scalia passed away this past weekend and while his opinions from the bench were always newsworthy, it is his passing that is garnering more than its share of controversy in this Presidential election year.

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Conservative Republicans are playing the stubborn elephants of their party’s mascot, digging in their heels and waving their big trunks, vowing to stall any nomination to the court by President Obama.  Are they that threatened?  No matter who gets appointed, isn’t a judicial nominee supposed to leave their party affiliations at the door of the Supreme Court Building?  Republicans have kicked the sand in the sandbox like spoiled children long enough.  To stall a nomination is not only childish but irresponsible, shackling the court in likely deadlocks for the next eleven months.

If I were President, I’d wait till the kids take their summer recess and then make a recess appointment.  It’s legit.  The President wouldn’t need the approval of the Senate and maybe some cases that mean something could be decided.  A “recess appointed justice” would only hold her position until the end of the next Senate session.  To continue to serve beyond would require a re-appointment and Senate confirmation.  And in our nation’s gloried history, of the ten justices appointed during a recess, only one was not subsequently confirmed by the Senate.

By the way, did you notice that I suggested that “she” would have to be confirmed by a full Senate?  Yes, maybe it’s time for a truly balanced bench with a fourth female justice to serve…then again, that might have to wait until we have a new female President:)

 

Tackling Taxes in Westchester

Owning property in Westchester comes with a pretty steep price. The purchase price is just the beginning of sticker shock for most homeowners in the County but the escalating cost of property taxes adds to that ongoing burden. Grieving your taxes is the only way to possibly get some relief and initiating the process the correct way from the start increases your chances of winning a reduction.

That being said, the tax grievance landscape has changed dramatically in the last few years with Mamaroneck and Scarsdale undertaking revaluations and Yonkers, Greenburgh and Ossining undergoing the process as of this writing. The municipalities had a two-fold goal: level the property tax playing field, which had not been adjusted in decades, and reduce the number of tax grievance applications which had swamped the assessors’ offices for the past few years.

Westchester Tax GrievanceThe revaluations have resulted in a seismic shift with lower tax bills for some and shockingly higher assessments for others.  As a Westchester attorney who has practiced in tax grievances for more than a decade, my experience has shown me that many lower-to-mid-range homes ($400-650K) are now assessed just where they should be in the current housing market, while many mega mansions are over-assessed, depending on location. The reality is that other than the rare exception, your property’s assessed value is now closer to the realized market value, especially if your town has just undergone a revaluation.

Each year, your municipality is required to send you a Notice of Assessment when it publishes its tentative tax roll. That gives property owners a chance to determine if they want to challenge the assessment by filing a tax grievance. Deadlines for filing are all over the map, literally, and I refer you here to the New York State website to see when your municipal deadline occurs.

More to come as we get closer to the Village (February) and Town (June) deadlines next spring.

Yogi & My Dad

When Yankee great Joe DiMaggio died, my Dad was so sad. When I asked why, he replied, “A big part of my childhood just died.”  Today, I finally get it.

Yogi was my childhood hero, along with John Glenn.  They were heroes at a time when that word meant integrity, courage and mastery of the game, whatever game they played.  Yogi was how my Dad and I bonded over The Yankees…you see,  my Dad was a catcher, one of the best and a great baseball/softball coach to me.

A true hero!

Die hard fans never forgave Mr. Steinbrenner when Yogi was banished but we all followed Yogi’s lead, straight into the stadium when he forgave the man and celebrated Yogi Day in 1999.  It was as if God smiled down on The Bronx that summer day and blessed us all with David Cone’s perfect game…who knew that when Don Larsen tossed a catch to Yogi before the game started that we would be a part of baseball history again. A perfect game on a perfect baseball day.

In my many years as a news reporter, I interviewed Presidents and rock stars, but never was I more excited then when I placed a call to Yogi in NJ and got him on the phone for a “beeper.”  My day, my career was made…and the first call I made after hanging up was to my Dad.

Rest in peace Mr. Berra. Have a catch with my Dad when you see him!