Washington State: Plan for special Tax Division of the Court of Appeals advances 4-3; second state to consider Court of Appeals judges to also sit as trial judges

Over the last several years states have considered creating within the judicial branch separate, special courts to hear only tax cases or tax appeals, such as proposals in Georgia (discussed here) and Louisiana (discussed here). Now Washington State’s Senate Committee on Law & Justice has advanced a different plan, namely, to designate a portion of the state’s existing Court of Appeals as a Tax Division which would take over the work of the State Board of Tax Appeals.

Currently the state’s Court of Appeals are divided into three divisions based on geography (Division 1 = Seattle, Division 2 = Tacoma, Division 3 = Spokane). SB 5449 and its House companion HB 2111 would create a special Tax Division based in Olympia.

Judges of the Tax Division would be Court of Appeals judges from Divisions 1-3 called the “Main” Department for 1-judge trials on complex tax matters and the “Commissioners” Department for other proceedings. A judge of the tax appeal division would have to have at least five years’ experience as an attorney practicing in state tax law before election to office. Judges would have to render decisions within 6 months after hearing and appeals from the Main Department would be directly to the Supreme Court.

This marks the second effort in the last several years to have intermediate appellate court judges sit as trial judges; Michigan made a similar move in 2013 when it made specially designated judges of that state’s Court of Appeals into the state’s Court of Claims.

Presently five states have their own Tax Courts within the judiciary branch: Arizona, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Oregon plus a specialized intermediate appellate court in Indiana.