Credit: Camden County
Judge recuses self from Buddy Carter property tax hearing
By Mary Landers, The Current
A Camden County Superior Court judge on Monday recused himself from a hearing set to take place less than 24 hours later. He hadn’t previously realized the plaintiff was U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter.
“The undersigned, having just been made aware that Petitioner Earl L. Carter is Congressman Buddy Carter, with whom he has enjoyed both a personal and professional relationship, has determined it necessary that he recuse himself from the hearing in the above captioned manner,” the recusal order from Judge Anthony L. Harrison reads.
The order was filed just before 1 p.m. Monday. The hearing had been set for Tuesday at 9 a.m. but was canceled by the recusal. The clerk of court will reassign the matter to another superior court judge.
A freeze worth $30,000
Carter is petitioning the court for an order to the Camden board of assessors regarding his contested property tax assessment. He wants either a freeze on the assessment at the 2020 level for three years — saving him about $30,000 in taxes — or another shot at a hearing on his property tax appeal.
The congressman also asked for “costs and reasonable attorney’s fees” and “any and all other relief this Court deems just and proper under the circumstances.”
Carter, Georgia’s First District representative, lives in Chatham County. But he bought a nearly 500-acre undeveloped property in Camden in 2018 for $2.1 million from Challenged Investments LLC. The land is about 220 acres of wetlands and 250 acres of higher ground the county describes as “residential large tract.”
The 2020 tax assessment that Carter appealed put the land’s value at $278,000, about 13% of what he paid two years prior.
Carter’s estimated net worth in 2019 was $13.2 million, making him the 22nd wealthiest member of the U.S. House of Representatives, according to a USA Today article that year.
A claim of bad advice
After two delays, the congressman’s hearing at the Camden County Board of Equalization was scheduled for Dec. 29, 2020.
But before the hearing Carter talked with someone at the board, who he says gave him bad information.
“… Carter spoke with a representative of the CCBE who informed Carter he could submit a letter consenting to the assessed value,” Carter’s petition to the court states. “The CCBE representative stated to Carter submitting the letter of consent would obviate the need for the appeal hearing, and freeze the assessed value on the property for three years.”
Carter wrote the consent letter, including the stipulation that agreeing to the assessment would freeze his property value for three years and that he wouldn’t be required to attend the hearing.
The letter concludes: “If this information is incorrect I request the board of equalization contact me immediately.”
The board didn’t contact him until Jan. 4 when in an email the clerk of court informed the congressman that his filed consent form ended his appeal.
His property assessment was not frozen and would increase significantly in 2021.
“Carter was knowingly misled by the CCTA via the CCBE and its operatives,” his petition states.
In 2021 the property was assessed at $1.3 million, or 61% of what he paid. Carter has said he plans to use for hunting and fishing and not as an investment. It sits about 7 miles down the road from the site of the planned Spaceport Camden, which Carter supports.
The Current filed a request Friday to record the hearing and will pursue it whenever it’s rescheduled.
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with The Current, providing in-depth journalism for Coastal Georgia.