Donald Johnson, one of the men who sets tax values on Fulton County properties, wants his rights restored to appraise real estate for a living.
Deemed unfit to appraise residential property by a state regulatory board earlier this year, Johnson has appealed to Fulton County Superior Court for the return of his residential appraiser’s license.
His attorneys told Judge Robert McBurney on Thursday that the Georgia Real Estate Appraisers Board acted too severely when it slapped him for overvaluing three quadruplexes and a townhouse, in areas of Atlanta rife with mortgage fraud, between 2005 and 2007.
An administrative law judge, noting Johnson’s three decades in the business and insufficient evidence that he took part in fraud, said Johnson should receive a six-month suspension. But the appraisers board rejected her recommendation, offering only a vague explanation about the severity of the conduct and a need for consistency.
McBurney gave little indication Thursday which way he will rule.
He questioned Johnson’s attorneys as to why professional regulators shouldn’t have discretion over discipline. He also questioned why the board handed down the harshest possible penalty for what weren’t the worst possible transgressions for an appraiser.
One of Johnson’s attorneys, Taylor McNeill, pointed out that it was appraisers board member D. Scott Murphy — a Suwanee-based appraiser and a competitor of Johnson’s — who turned in Johnson to the board. Murphy later recused himself.
“Even the possibility of vindictiveness violates due process,” McNeill said. “Mr. Johnson feels that he has been targeted.”
Murphy said Thursday that he came across what he thought were inflated appraisals while doing reviews for private clients.
“I turn in appraisals all the time to the board,” he said. “I had no knowledge of who Mr. Johnson was.”
Johnson is one of five members of the Fulton County Board of Assessors who oversee the setting of fair-market values on homes, businesses and land lots throughout the county, which determines how much taxpayers get billed.
His disciplining by the state has provided ammunition to critics who say Fulton systematically overtaxes homeowners through overstated values. The commissioner who appointed him, Bill Edwards, said he may ask Johnson to step down, depending on the outcome of his appeal.
Johnson, through one of his attorneys, declined to comment Thursday.