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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Jim Gilbert returns to Supreme Court

There were cameras flashing in the courtroom this morning as former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice James Gilbert took his seat at counsel's table to argue a case before his old court.

But, while the day was notable for being one of the first times a former Supreme Court justice has returned to argue a case before the high court, that's not why the cameras were there. The cameras were there for the man sitting next to Gilbert, Robert Hill, who had handled the case at the trial court level. Hill, who is planning a congressional campaign against Michelle Bachman, obtained the marshal's permission to have a few campaign photos taken before the justices took the bench.

The case was Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Coop v. County of Renville, where Gilbert, on behalf of the appellant coop, argued that the county -- and the Tax Court -- erroneously assessed the coop's sugar beet processing plant. The coop maintains that the use of a cost approach in valuing the plant and including the processing equipment as taxable real estate caused the county to assess an exorbitant tax.

The issue is important particularly in an era where property taxes have become very important to local governments, Hill told Minnesota Lawyer.

The argument was also notable for packing the courtroom, not a common occurrence in tax cases. Many of the members of the coop left their crops to attend. "These guys are farmers. They are not about putting on suits," Hill said.

The justices allowed Gilbert about two minutes before interrupting with questions, but then kept a steady pace; they responded similarly to the county's appellate attorney, Marc Manderscheid. As always, it's fruitless to try to predict the court's ruling from the questioning.

The only justice to recuse himself from the case was Sam Hanson, who once worked at Briggs and Morgan, the firm representing the county on appeal.

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