LSAT Kung Fu Blog / 1L Summer Week 4: Tax Court! ! !!
1L Summer Week 4: Tax Court! ! !!
Yesterday we went to tax court!
One more exclamation point: !
OK. Two together now: !!
US Tax Court is a Federal trial-level court like the US District Courts, but it’s only for tax matters. Its decisions are appealable to the US Circuit Courts, just the same as any District Court’s decisions. The judges ride circuit! That means that they’re based in Washington, D.C., but they travel to courthouses around the country for one to three days at a stretch to hear cases. I love the term “ride circuit.” I didn’t look it up, but I’m pretty sure it comes from the days when there weren’t permanent judges in most locations, but instead judges from larger cities would literally ride their horses to smaller communities to hold court. It’s quaint!
There were originally 81 cases on the docket in yesterday’s session. You want to know how many settled before going to trial? 79! That left one case for trial, and one case that entered a default judgment because the Petitioner (in Tax Court, the taxpayer is always called the Petitioner. This is analogous to the Plaintiff in a civil suit, because the Petitioner bears the burden of proof. That is, unless the taxpayer can show otherwise, the court presumes that the judgment of the IRS is correct. Interesting, right? The attorney for the IRS defends on behalf of the IRS Commissioner, who is called the Respondent) neither communicated with the IRS nor showed up to her/his court date.
Our firm settled all of our cases for our clients before the docket call, but we went to court anyway to observe, pretty much just for the benefit of me and my fellow summer clerks as a learning exercise. It was cool. The attorney for the Petitioner (which is a pretty rare sight—most tax cases are conducted by the taxpayer pro se—without assistance of counsel—because tax attorneys are EXPENSIVE) and Respondent’s counsel were very cordial, even though it was a contested matter, which means that they had tried to come to a settlement but hadn’t been able to.
They spoke to us a bit before the trial, and Petitioner’s counsel made a joke that we should only pay attention to Respondent’s counsel, since he was the one who knew what he was doing. It was lame but also kind of charming because it was self-effacing. Plus any joke seems totally goddamned hilarious when it’s told inside a tax court.
The taxpayer was the only witness, and the first part of the trial (well, after Opening Statements, which, per the judge’s demand, were very brief), when Petitioner’s attorney did his direct examination, was pretty interesting. The Petitioner told the story of his business, how he got into it, why it ended up being unprofitable, etc. Then we broke for lunch, and when we came back it got real dry up in there real fast.
The Respondent’s cross examination was the most repetitive exercise in dotting every i and crossing every t that it has ever been my burden to witness. The IRS doesn’t try to win on style points, let me tell you.
The biggest disappointment (though we were pretty sure it was coming, so it wasn’t like it was a surprise) was that the judge didn’t make any ruling. Our supervising attorney said that if the judge orders post-trial briefs, his final ruling may not come until next May. Crazy, right? Even if he doesn’t order briefs, the taxpayer probably won’t get a decision for another six months. Nuts.
I think that’s pretty much all there is to tell you about Tax Court as I experienced it, but if you have questions… Well, I mean, it’s in the signature. You know what to do.
Questions? Comments? Complaints? Post them below, or shoot me an email.
Be good to one another, for we need it now more than maybe ever,
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