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'Friends' briefs welcomed in Hebron Academy vs. Hebron
HEBRON — Maine Supreme Judicial Court has invited the briefs of "friends of the court" in Hebron Academy vs. the Town of Hebron, scheduled to be argued during the December 2012 session of the Court.
Selectman Dan Eichorn made the announcement during Monday's selectmen meeting.
A friend of the court, or amici curae, is the name for a brief filed with the court by someone who is not a party to the litigation, Eichorn explained.
The Court invites amicus briefs on classification of private school as "literary" or "scientific" institution for purposes of property-tax exemption.
On December 1, 2010, Hebron Academy filed a lawsuit against the town for tax-exemption status.
According to published reports, the school retained tax-exempt status until 2009, when the school's property taxes doubled and the town began taxing part of the school's property, including Robinson Arena.
On November 22, 2011, Hebron Academy argued in Oxford County Superior Court for tax-exempt status for its ice arena, which the town alleges the school runs as a business – at a 2010 meeting of the Oxford County Commission, the town argued that the academy rents out the ice arena for reasons unrelated to its tax-exempt purpose.
According to reports, the academy claimed it rented out the ice arena "in a nonprofit manner" and "charged each group reasonable rates in order to cover the expenses of the ice hockey arena."
In 2010, Hebron Academy requested that all money paid to the town be reimbursed.
A lawyer for the town of Hebron argued that under Maine statute, the academy at the time did not qualify for tax-exempt status.
In February, 2012, however, Oxford County Justice Robert Clifford said because the Academy could prove it is a scientific and literary institution, it was therefore eligible for tax-exempt status.
He decided from 2010 on, the school would be exempt from property taxes on most of its property, including the arena, reports say.
Because the Academy was too late in contesting its 2009 real estate taxes on the arena and other parcels, Justice Clifford ruled that the taxes, worth $19,240, would still need to be paid, according to reports.
During Monday's meeting, Eichorn told the other selectmen that parties not related to the litigation, but that have an interest in the case's outcome, are invited to the Supreme Judicial Court in December.
Briefs must be filed on or before November 7, said Eichorn and sent to 205 Newbury Street Room 139 Portland, Maine 04101.
Eichorn said the town can then reply to the amicus briefs by November 17 if it chooses, particularly if the briefs "bring up something totally new. ... but it doesn't seem that it's likely," he said. "I think the issues are pretty well-defined."
Eichorn said he believed the town will notify the Maine Municipal Association and the Attorney General's Office "considering we're trying to [have] tax rules followed. I figured both of those parties might want to put in a brief as to how they think the case should be decided," he said.
The Court will hold a "non-evidentiary hearing" on the appeal December 12-13, said Eichorn, though the exact time is still to be determined.
Eichorn said he hopes the Court will make a final decision by town meeting in March.
The town of Hebron filed a brief with the Court in July. It can be reviewed at www.courts.state.me.us/mainecourts/supreme/amicusinvites/hebron/hebron_invite.shtml.
This story was edited on December 11 to change the date for when Justice Robert Clifford ruled in the Academy's favor that it was eligible for tax-exempt status.