PRINCETON: Judge deals university another procedural setback in property tax exemption case

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Princeton University will have the burden of proof to show that it is entitled to its property tax exemption, according to a New Jersey tax court judge who will decide a citizens’ lawsuit challenging the exemption.
The decision by Judge Vito L. Bianco Thursday was the latest in a string of procedural defeats for the university in the closely watched case. The school had wanted the judge to put the onus on the four residents to prove why the university is not entitled to the exemption, something they had opposed.
“This $21 billion corporate entity represented by one of the largest law firms in the world asked the judge to force these four retired senior citizens to carry the burden of proof in this case,” said the residents’ lawyer, Bruce I. Afran, in a phone interview Thursday.
In his ruling, the judge rejected all of Princeton’s legal arguments and also found the four residents — Kenneth Fields, Mary Ellen Merino and Kathryn and Joseph King — have standing to bring the suit.
Mr. Afran said the university would have a “heavy burden” of proof when the case goes to trial.
Princeton spokesman Martin A. Mbugua said Thursday that the university was “seeking clarification regarding the burden of proof, recognizing that it is usually the plaintiffs who need to prove their claims, especially in cases where they are challenging government action, as the plaintiffs are doing in this case.”
“We now move forward to prepare for trial under the rules as they have now been clarified.”
The residents have contended the university is for profit entity and, therefore, not eligible for a tax exemption.