attorney-client privilege

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.
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Wrapping Up September – and Looking Forward to October

Upcoming Tax Controversy Activities in October:

October 12, 2017: Cate Battin, Kristen Hazel, Britt Haxton, Jane May, Sandra McGill, Diann Smith and Elizabeth Chao are hosting and presenting at the inaugural Tax in the City® event in Seattle, Washington. They will cover topics such as attorney-client privilege and the ethics of social media (CLE/CPE), recent developments around US Tax Reform, and updates on state and local tax issues for Seattle and the surrounding areas.

 October 25, 2017: Todd Welty and Lowell Yoder are speaking at the TEI 72nd Annual Conference in Toronto, Ontario, and will present “Repatriation: Strategy, Practice and the Road Ahead.”

November 2, 2017: Laura Gavioli, Kristen Hazel, Michael Louis, Cym Lowell, Damon Lyon, Denise Mudigere, Dave Noren, Kristina Novak, Andrew Roberson, Jay Singer, Mark Thomas and Michael Wilder are speaking at the TEI Global Tax Symposium in Houston, Texas, and covering the following topics: Multilateral Instruments & European Developments, Country by Country Reporting, Repatriation Strategies and the IRS Repatriation Campaign, Disclosures for Global Tax Strategies, and Treasury Center/Currency Issues.
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Female tax professionals gathered in McDermott Will & Emery’s New York office for an annual New York rendition of Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable on Thursday, September 14. Featuring a CLE/CPE presentation about Privilege and the Ethics of Social Media by Kristen Hazel and Robin Greenhouse, an update on tax reform

Courts continue to strike down the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as it continues to test the bounds of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine through the issuance of improper summonses. In the last several years, the IRS has filed numerous summons enforcement proceedings related to the production of documents generally protected by the attorney-client privilege, tax-practitioner privilege, and/or work product doctrine. These summonses include overt requests for “tax advice” and “tax analysis,” which several courts have refused to enforce. For example, see Schaeffler v. United States, 806 F.3d 34 (2d Cir. 2015).

Once again, in United States v. Micro Cap KY Insurance Co., Inc. (Eastern District of Kentucky), a federal district court rejected the IRS’s arguments and refused to enforce an inappropriate summons. The opinion is available here. The IRS filed this enforcement proceeding seeking to compel the production of confidential communications between taxpayers and the lawyers that assisted them in forming a captive insurance company. After conducting an in camera review (where the judge privately reviewed the documents without admitting them in the record), the judge found the taxpayers had properly invoked privilege since each document “predominately involve[d] legal advice within the retention of [] counsel.”

The court also rejected the government’s argument that the attorney-client privilege was waived by raising a reasonable cause and reliance on counsel defense to penalties in the taxpayers’ case filed in Tax Court. Because the government’s argument was untimely, it was waived and rejected outright. The court, however, proceeded to explain how the argument also failed on its merits.
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The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has broad authority under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 7602 to issue administrative summonses to taxpayers and third parties to gather information to ascertain the correctness of any return. If the IRS does not know the identity of the parties whose records are covered by the summons, the IRS may issue a “John Doe” summons only upon receipt of a court order. The court will issue the order if the IRS has satisfied the three criteria provided in IRC Section 7609(f):

  • The summons relates to the investigation of a particular person or ascertainable group or class of persons,
  • There is a reasonable basis for believing that such person or group or class of persons may fail or may have failed to comply with any provision of any internal revenue law, and
  • The information sought to be obtained from the examination of the records (and the identity of the person or persons with respect to whose liability the summons is issued) is not readily available from other sources.


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On November 3, 2016, we presented at the Chicago Tax Club’s symposium regarding tax planning and intellectual property (IP) planning within a multinational corporation. The presentation covered various areas, including the importance of coordination between IP and tax groups when engaging in IP planning, the differences in the IP arena and the tax arena with

Facebook is in a protracted battle with the IRS related to its off-shoring of IP to an Irish affiliate. Read more here. The IRS issued an administrative summons for the documents, and Facebook has refused to comply with the summons. The IRS is asking the court to enforce the summons and force Facebook to

Due to the enormous amount of electronic data stored by companies in the modern era, discovery requests can involve millions of documents which need to be reviewed prior to being turned over to the opposing party.  In conducting their analysis of this overwhelming quantity of information, litigants must, amongst other things, detect and exclude any privileged material.  Should a party inadvertently fail to do so before such records reach the hands of the opposing counsel, he/she will be deemed to waive privilege in many jurisdictions.  Given the massive quantity of data, however, such mistakes are practically unavoidable.

Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 502 was enacted in 2008 in an attempt to combat the issue of inevitable human error and the costs associated with parties’ efforts to avoid it.  FRE 502(d) allows parties to request the court to grant an order stipulating that a disclosure of privileged material does not waive any claims of privilege with respect to those documents.  If the court agrees to enter the order, it is controlling on third parties and in any other federal or state proceeding.

FRE 502(d) has led to the possibility of “quick peek” agreements where the parties give over all or a portion of their documents to opposing counsel without any privilege review whatsoever so that the recipient can identify which material he would like to retain.  The recipient, in turn, agrees not to assert a waiver claim on any document that the producing party intends to withhold from the requested documents as privileged.  These arrangements can dramatically ease the temporal and financial burdens of conducting a privilege review because they allow the producing party to focus only on those documents desired by the recipient while at the same time preserving their right to claim privilege on such documents.
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