Cook On Concord: In memory of a ‘lawyer’s lawyer’
On a cold March 19, a capacity crowd filled Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Concord Heights to bid farewell to prominent attorney Ronald Snow, who passed away the prior week.
Ron Snow was a vigilant advocate, described by his law partner Bill Chapman as a “lawyer’s lawyer,” and active participant in civic and professional affairs.
Senior partner at the Concord law firm Orr & Reno, Snow practiced law for many years, specializing in medical malpractice defense. He counseled hundreds of clients, regularly appeared in court, was active in trial lawyer affairs and societies, and gave much time to his community.
Five priests on the altar attested to his love of and participation in the Catholic Church and his parish, the pastor noting that every project the Parish undertook “bore his fingerprints.”
Ron Snow twice was chairman of the state Ballot Law Commission, chaired many boards and commissions and was active right up to the time of his death at age 72.
Strikingly, the decency and manners of Ron Snow were cited as was his consideration for others and belief in propriety. His concern for legal aid to the poor was a constant in his life. He valued education and made sure his children received good educations, was an athlete and avid golfer at the Concord County Club, and supported musical organizations.
The state of New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Bar, the city of Concord and his parish have lost a good friend.
There was a significant development in the seemingly never-ending tension between not-for-profit organizations and town taxing authorities on March 14.
In Town of Peterborough v. The MacDowell Colony Inc., the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously decided that Peterborough could not assess property taxes against The MacDowell Colony, a venerable arts institution that has enjoyed a charitable exemption from property taxes for most of its property since its founding in 1907.
Property taxes in New Hampshire provide the majority of funds for local government. As those needs become greater, the pressure on local governments to find new sources of revenue is more intense. Therefore, towns routinely look at all of the exempt property within their borders and figure out whether those tax exemptions are appropriate under statutory rules. It was a shock to all in the charitable, religious and educational communities when The MacDowell Colony’s exemption was revoked and the Superior Court in a well-reasoned decision last year ruled that Peterborough was wrong on all counts.
The decision of the Supreme Court was decisive in its explanation of the law, ratifying what most observers always thought the law had been (and Peterborough had observed until 2005).
The court said that for an exemption to exist everyone in the general public does not have to have equal access to or admission to a program. This seemed logical. Dartmouth College is exempt, and not every child can go to Dartmouth. Likewise, artists have to qualify to go to The MacDowell Colony.
However, that was not the major point. The major contribution of the decision was that all of the general public benefits when art is advanced, even if everyone is not allowed to be an artist in residence at The MacDowell Colony. Indeed, the court noted, “its charitable purpose is ‘promotion of the arts.’” Everyone benefits from the promotion of the arts and, therefore, the general public benefits, even though everyone cannot be a MacDowell Colony artist.
By finding that the general public as a whole benefits from promotion of the arts, however, the Court made a distinction from New Hampshire individuals participating in residence. This was important.
Notwithstanding this decision, as those of us who represent charities, educational institutions and religious institutions regularly know, the battle is not over. The continued examination of exempt properties, the attacks and the attempts to tax those entities and activities will continue and probably become more intense. This will continue as long as New Hampshire relies so heavily on the property tax, and that reliance does not look like it is going to be changed any time soon.
Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.