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Baltimore SF gets it day before the beak

06/12/2004. Contributed by Jessica Martin

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The Baltimore Science Fiction Society wins its court case.

On December 15, 2004 the Maryland Court of Appeals in a unanimous opinion reversed the judgment of the Circuit Court of Baltimore and restored the earlier findings of the Maryland Tax Court granting the Baltimore Science Fiction Society a property tax exemption for their building at 3310 E. Baltimore Street. In the 13-page opinion the Court of Appeals reviewed many aspects of the tax court's finding and in some instances provides a more favorable opinion about the BSFS case than the Tax Court. According to BSFS attorney Donald J. Arnold Esq. this constitutes a "clear, clean win."

BFSF's problems with the executive branch began with an interpretation by the Maryland State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) which held that a literary society must meet the criteria of a school in order to qualify for a property tax exemption. BSFS appealed this interpretation to the Tax Court and, after presenting extensive evidence, won recognition from the Court that BSFS met all criteria of a literary society. During Tax Court BSFS presented testimonials from community organizations, publishers and SFWA vouching for our educational projects and the value of SF literature to general society. The Tax Court ruled that STAT's insistence that all educational organizations meet systematic instruction equivalent to a school was unreasonable and granted BSFS a property Tax exemption.

STAT appealed to the Baltimore Circuit Court level where Judge I.H. Hammerman on March 4th accepted the STAT interpretation that all educational organizations must meet systematic instruction equivalent to a school. Judge Hammerman also stated in open court that "I don't think promoting science fiction[literature] is what is deemed to be the operation of an educational organization."

Needless to say BSFS appealed to the Court of Special Appeals which in an unusual move forwarded the case directly to the Court of Appeals--Maryland's highest Court. On November 8th the BSFS attorney faced all seven members of the Court of Appeals and answered questions on "systematic instruction" and literary societies. Maryland Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey G. Comen also answered many questions including his opinion of Jules Verne and the place of SF literature in American culture.

In the end the Court of Appeals agreed that the Tax Courts interpretation was "a more realistic concept" of the word "educational" and ordered the BSFS's property tax exemption. The value of SF literature was not cited in their opinion. Judge I.H. Hammerman passed away November 10th after publicly revealing he believed his mental acuity had been slipping for well over a year.

Dale Arnold, Chair of BSFS Board of Directors, believes this victory will insure the future of BSFS and its literary projects, "The neighborhood around the BSFS Building is undergoing a renaissance with the property values and the taxes on the building exploding. Thankfully now we can afford to keep the building, continue our free lending library and even expand programs like our young writers contest."

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