May It Please The Court

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May It Please The Court
by Leonard Rivkin
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Quote of the Day - The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward. - John Maynard Keyes
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Secret Tax Court Opinions See The Light Of Day And Critical Examination

It's been 11 years, one five-week hearing, a written report from Special Trial Judge D. Irvin Couvillion, a 606-page opinion from Senior Judge Howard A. Dawson, Jr. (now retired, but still hearing cases), and we're not there yet. As if you couldn't tell already, we're talking about the Tax Court.

Earlier this year, our Supreme Court ordered the Tax Court to release previously secret opinions, one of which included the startling case of Burton Kanter, a famous tax attorney, now deceased.

The high court decision highlighted the Tax Court's 20-year practice of Special Trial Judges writing decisions kept secret from the parties and seen only by the senior judges in the Tax Court - kept secret even from appellate courts in cases on appeal. The startling aspect of the Supreme Court decision came when the Tax Court released Special Trial Judge Couvillion's decision, which was markedly different from the final decision in the Kanter case.

Special Trial Judge Couvillion, who heard the Kanter case for five weeks, ruled that there was no fraud. Senior Judge Dawson's ruling held there was.

One appeals court judge stated that he had reviewed some 880 opinions involving STJ rulings, and each had agreed with the final opinion. Now that the opinions will be opened up, tax professors will be poring through them. We'll find out soon enough whether that observation holds water.

Meanwhile, Kanter's case (the Estate of Kanter) is still winding through the Tax Court, with his lawyers claiming vindication given last week's release of the STJ opinion. The IRS lawyers, not surprisingly, haven't given up. Remember Dickens' not-so-fictional case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce?

This is it in real life.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Wednesday, July 13, 2005 at 10:40 Comments (0)


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