Santa Paula woman pleads no-contest in property tax case

May 10, 2002
Santa Paula News

A former county appraiser with the Ventura County Assessor’s Office received a suspended sentence, three years probation and a total of $850 in fines for a plea of no-contest to charges that she altered assessment records to save $190 in property taxes on her Santa Paula home.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesA former county appraiser with the Ventura County Assessor’s Office received a suspended sentence, three years probation and a total of $850 in fines for a plea of no-contest to charges that she altered assessment records to save $190 in property taxes on her Santa Paula home.Barbara Sorem-Hughlett, 54, did not appear in court on Monday but through her attorney entered the no contest plea to a count of misdemeanor conflict of interest. Superior Court Judge Kevin McGee suspended jail time for Sorem-Hughlett, but fined her $750 and ordered her to pay $100 to a state restitution fund.By pleading no contest, Sorem-Hughlett neither challenged the charges nor admitted wrongdoing. She could have faced a six month jail term and up to $10,000 in fines for violating the law that bans governmental decisions in which officials have a financial interest.Deputy District Attorney Tom Temple said that Sorem-Hughlett’s job, which she held for 23 years before retiring - when faced with possible termination - in February 2001, including reviewing and adjusting the work of other assessors.
Sorem-Hughlett’s attorney David Shain said considering her employment record and the amount of money she would have saved on her property taxes - only $190 - resulted more from negligence than misconduct.In October 200, Sorem-Hughlett lowered the value of her Santa Paula home by $20,000 while reviewing the assessments of hundreds of other homes. She also deducted another $5,000 from the value as a “nuisance” fee for living behind a barranca during a period when real estate market prices were climbing dramatically. She also adjusted the appraisals of other homes in her neighborhood.The changes were discovered by another employee, who reported Sorem-Hughlett to management. The changes were corrected before being entered on the tax rolls.Temple said Sorem-Hughlett had to consult a parcel map of her neighborhood with the street name, proper address and city to make the changes, proof that any changes were done with full knowledge of her actions.Sorem-Hughlett collects a county pension of about $1,346 a month.



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