On the February 6, 2019, the White House announced that President Donald Trump has renominated Mark Van Dyke Holmes, Courtney Dunbar Jones, Travis Greaves and Emin Toro to 15-year terms on the United States Tax Court. President Trump nominated each candidate in 2018, but the Senate was not able to confirm their appointments prior to the end of the last 2018 session—requiring the candidates to be renominated. We reported the initial nominations in “President Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Emin Toro to Tax Court” and “President Trump to Nominate Greaves to Tax Court; Senate Confirms Copeland and Urda.”

If confirmed by the Senate, these candidates would fill the three current vacancies on the full 19-judge court. Mark Van Dyke Holmes is currently serving as a senior tax court judge while awaiting confirmation. In addition, Courtney Dunbar Jones currently serves as a senior attorney in the IRS Office of Chief Counsel; Travis Greaves currently serves as a deputy assistant attorney general for appellate and review for the Department of Justice, Tax Division; and Emin Toro is currently a partner in the Washington, DC office of Covington & Burling LLP.

We are hopeful for a speedy confirmation process this time.

On March 2, 2018, President Trump nominated Michael Desmond to be the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Unfortunately, the Senate did not get around to confirming him. On January 16, 2019, President Trump renominated Mr. Desmond, and the US Senate Committee on Finance has scheduled a hearing for February 5th to consider his renomination.

The Chief Counsel is the top legal advisor to the IRS Commissioner on all matters pertaining to the interpretation, administration and enforcement of the Internal Revenue laws. The Chief Counsel also provides legal guidance and interpretive advice to the IRS, Treasury and to taxpayers. Mr. Desmond clerked for Judge Ronald S.W. Lew of the United States District Court for the Central District of California. From 1995 through 2000, he served as a trial attorney in the Tax Division at the Department of Justice, and from 2005 through 2008 he served as tax legislative counsel at the Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Policy.

Mr. Desmond has a strong reputation in the tax community, and we hope that his nomination is acted on immediately.

As we previously discussed, the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) closed its doors on December 28, 2018, until further notice. However, trial sessions scheduled for the weeks of January 7, and 14, 2019, were to proceed as scheduled. The Tax Court has updated its website to confirm that the trial sessions scheduled for the week of January 14, 2019, will proceed as scheduled, but that trial sessions scheduled for the week of January 28, 2019, in El Paso, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Lubbock are canceled. A decision regarding the trial sessions for the week of February 4, 2019, will be made on or before January 18, 2019.

As a result of the shutdown, the Tax Court did not issue any Orders or Opinions from December 31, 2018, to January 9, 2019. It started issuing Orders again on January 10, 2019, but no Opinions have been issued since December 27, 2018.

Practice Point: In addition to its impact on governmental agencies, the government shutdown continues to disrupt judicial operations. Some federal courts have continued to issue opinions during this time but activity in many cases has been postponed or canceled.

The United States Tax Court (Tax Court) has announced that it will be shutting down starting today, December 28, 2018 at 11:59 p.m., and will remain closed until further notice. However, trial sessions scheduled for the weeks of January 7 and 14, 2019, will proceed as scheduled. Electronic filing and electronic access to the Tax Court’s docket system will remain available and taxpayers may comply with statutory deadlines for documents required to be paper filed by timely mailing such documents using approved delivery services. Further updates will be provided on the Tax Court’s website.

Practice Point: The government shutdown continues to impact government agencies and the judicial system. For a detailed discussion of the impact of the shutdown on the Internal Revenue Service, see here.

Taxes and tax litigation can be complex and confusing. Taxpayers have the option of filing a petition in the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) prior to payment of any asserted deficiency. Alternatively, taxpayers can pay the deficiency, file a claim for refund with the Internal Revenue Service and, if that claim is denied or more than six months have elapsed, file a complaint in local District Court or the Court of Federal Claims requesting a refund. These forum rules sometimes trip up taxpayers and can lead to the filing of a suit in the wrong court.

In the Protecting Access to the Courts for Taxpayers Act (H.R. 3996), Congress has provided relief for taxpayers in this type of situation through an amendment to 28 USC section 1631:

Whenever a civil action is filed in a court as defined in section 610 of this title or an appeal, including a petition for review of administrative action, is noticed for or filed with such a court and that court finds that there is a want of jurisdiction, the court shall, if it is in the interest of justice, transfer such action or appeal to any other such court (or, for cases within the jurisdiction of the United States Tax Court) in which the action or appeal could have been brought at the time it was filed or noticed, and the action or appeal shall proceed as if it had been filed in or noticed for the court to which it is transferred on the date upon which it was actually filed in or noticed for the court from which it is transferred.

Practice Point: Allowing improperly filed cases to be transferred to the Tax Court is a welcome development for taxpayers. The amendment to 28 USC section 1631 protects taxpayers in situations where a complaint is filed within 90 days of receipt of a Notice of Deficiency in a refund jurisdiction when it should have been filed in the Tax Court.

Back in April, we discussed possible changes to the Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure based on comments made at the Tax Court Judicial Conference in Chicago. On November 30, 2018, the Tax Court announced the adoption of amendments to its Rules in several areas. Certain amendments are discussed below.

Payments to the Tax Court

Payments to court, which previously were required to be made by cash, check or money order, may now be made electronically through Pay.gov.

Filing

A paper may be filed electronically either during or outside of business hours, unless the paper relates to an ongoing trial session, in which case it generally must be filed at the session. A document electronically filed is considered timely if filed at or before 11:59 pm, Eastern Time, on the last day of the applicable period for filing. This amendment comports with the practice in other federal courts, e.g., US District Courts.

Signature

A signature on an electronic filing does not have to be handwritten if the filing meets the standards required by the court. An email address must be provided immediately beneath the signature.

Electronic Filing of Petitions

The court is in the process of implementing procedures to allow the electronic filing of a petition to commence a case. Additional information will be furnished to taxpayers on the Tax Court’s website in its electronic filings guidelines.

Evidence

In accordance with recent legislation, the Rules were updated to require that the court to follow the Federal Rules of Evidence instead of the rules of evidence applicable in trials without a jury in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

Passport Actions

In accordance with recent legislation, new Rules are provided regarding the court’s jurisdiction and review of determinations to certain passport revocation actions.

Interest Abatement

Certain changes were made to the interest abatement rules and a corresponding change was made to the sample form of petition contained on the Tax Court’s website.

On October 27, the US District Court for the District of Minnesota issued an opinion in United States v. Adams, No. 0:17-cr-00064-DWF-KMM (D. Minn. Oct. 27, 2018), addressing attorney-client privilege issues relevant to accountants working alongside tax attorneys. The court adopted a narrow, nuanced view of the waiver that applies when the taxpayer discloses an accountant’s work to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by filing an amended return.

In Adams, the taxpayer is facing a 17 count superseding indictment in which the government alleges he spearheaded a scheme to defraud investors in two companies and to embezzle corporate funds for his personal benefit. In late 2017, the government added three counts of tax evasion to the indictment, alleging that amended returns the taxpayer filed in late 2011 for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 tax years were willfully false under IRC § 7206(1).

The addition of the tax evasion charges is significant for the government’s arguments for waiver of privilege and work-product protection. It appears that the taxpayer filed the amended returns at issue in late 2011 under advice of counsel, working with the taxpayer’s accountant under a Kovel arrangement. (We have previously discussed the scope of Kovel protections here.) In our experience, filing of amended returns in advance of a criminal investigation or trial is one potential strategy to demonstrate good faith and lack of criminal intent and, if combined with payment, amended returns may have the added benefit of reducing the tax loss at issue in a criminal case. Of course, every case is different, but it appears this may have been the strategy at work in Adams. Continue Reading Kovel Protections Upheld | Government Loses Aggressive Arguments for Waiver of Privilege for Controversy Advice

Andy Roberson, Kevin Spencer and Emily Mussio recently authored an article for Law360 entitled, “A Look At Tax Code Section 199’s Last Stand.” The article discusses the IRS’s contentious history in handling Code Section 199 and the taxpayers’ continued battle to claim the benefit – even after its recent repeal.

Access the full article.

Originally published in Law360, November 2018.

Last May, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) announced that approximately 70 percent of all taxpayers in Tax Court cases and approximately 90 percent of taxpayers in small tax cases are self-represented. The Tax Court encourages assistance by pro bono attorneys at its calendar calls, and strives to provide information to taxpayers about how they may be able to connect with those attorneys (more background on the Tax Court’s efforts can be found here). Although pro bono attorneys appear at Tax Court calendar calls to assist self-represented taxpayers, ethical rules may limit the ability of these attorneys to provide certain kinds of legal assistance. For example, once an attorney makes an appearance in a court case, typically the attorney cannot simply withdraw and stop representing the client. The attorney may have to get both the client’s and court’s consent to withdraw from the representation. The inability to provide legal advice for one or more occasions without potentially being stuck on a case is perceived to dissuade many practitioners from providing pro bono service.

In response to these concerns, the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Taxation recently provided comments to the Tax Court regarding potential amendments to its rules relating to appearance and representation before the Tax Court. The ABA comments encourage the Tax Court to consider a limited appearance rule for pro bono attorneys appearing at the calendar call. This one-time appearance representation may encourage more attorneys to get involved in providing pro bono legal assistance to taxpayers. We will provide an update on any future action that the Tax Court may take in this regard.

Links to McDermott posts and articles about tax pro bono efforts by volunteer attorneys are listed below: