INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—When the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that the City of Indianapolis did not violate equal protection laws during the years-long battle over property tax assessments, an alumnus from the IU Kelley School of Business Indianapolis had won a case before the highest court of the land. Jonathan Mayes (B.S. ’02) was the deputy director and special counsel for the Department of Public Safety and served as the chief litigation counsel to the City of Indianapolis at the time of the lawsuit. Mayes recently returned to Kelley Indianapolis to speak to students in an honors business law class about the case and his diverse experience in public and private law.
“There are a lot of opportunities out there that open up other opportunities,” Mayes told students. “You may hit some dead ends and be led somewhere else. Be on the lookout for opportunities that expand your horizon, that expand who you are as a person and that open other opportunities. You want to have a variety of routes you could possibly go and it’s good to get different experiences. It shows potential employers that you’re able to work in a lot of different challenging environments and excel. It shows you’re flexible.”
Judith Wright, a lecturer in business law, invited Mayes to speak to her class after seeing his name listed as lead counsel on a case she planned to assign to her students. A finance and accounting major with a law degree from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, Mayes walked through the case for the class, describing how the tax assessment debacle began, and why it became a legal issue. Mayes told the students the job of a trial attorney is to tell his clients’ story to the jury.
“You have a story to tell about your client’s case, no matter what side you are,” he advised students. “I want to tell you the story in this case so you can see how these cases are very real stories to very real people, but there are also very real concerns for other parties involved.”
In 2005 the City of Indianapolis decided to stop assessing property taxes to individual homes to pay for improvements on sewer lines. Homeowners who were paying in installments no longer had to pay off previous improvements, but residents who paid in a lump sum at the time of the construction would not be reimbursed the difference. This resulted in two lawsuits, including a class action, claiming unequal representation under the law due to unfair treatment in administering a tax. As counsel for the city, Mayes tried the primary case in the state courts, eventually winning before the Indiana Supreme Court. That case was appealed to the U. S. Supreme Court by taxpayers claiming their constitutional rights were at issue. In a vote of 6-3 the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the city and the related class action suit was then dropped.
“The battle cry of our country’s independence with the Boston tea party was ‘taxation without representation,’” Mayes told students. “So what the Supreme Court has said is this is a tax issue and it may be unequal. But in taxes let’s let the legislative branch or executive branch handle it.”
Currently an attorney at Bose McKinney and Evans LLP, Mayes has represented the cities of Indianapolis and Kokomo, with experience in employment discrimination litigation, labor arbitrations and negotiations. Students wanted to know how Mayes’ Kelley degree in accounting and finance help in his law career.
“I use my accounting and finance background every month,” he said. “For example, I worked on a jury trial, a dispute between a multi-million dollar company and its former CEO. There are executive compensation issues and tax deductibility issues that are central to the case. We have expert witnesses who are tax witnesses and I know what they’re saying and I know the weaknesses in their analysis.”
Mayes says his background in business also helps in cases that have nothing to do with accounting or finance.
“In one case we represented a regulatory review where they wanted to see a bank account,” Mayes told the class. “I looked at the records and recognized the bank statement didn’t balance. The office manager and I kept going back and forth over why the numbers were off. She finally came clean that she’d been whiting out numbers and she’d been taking money out of accounts.”
Students were engaged in Mayes’ discussion, curious about the property tax case and asking the alum for advice.
“Being involved with a case before the United States Supreme Court is quite possibly the climax of an attorney’s practicing career,” reflected Aaron Buchanan, a sophomore studying accounting, finance and international studies. “Although I did not initially agree with the City of Indianapolis, after hearing Mr. Mayes speak, it was clear that the city did have the Constitutional right to tax their citizens unevenly. This lecture certainly made me think about how little I know about the Constitutional rights of our government to tax its citizens.”
“Hearing lectures from those that work through real-life situations, such as Jon Mayes, continue to be the most meaningful times of my education,” added Buchanan. “Mr. Mayes’ lecture was particularly interesting because he is a successful Kelley graduate. Alumni, like Mr. Mayes, inspire current students to strive for success, encourage us to remain ethical in all situations, and teach us that the world is ours for the taking.”