It’s Probably Not Good for Your Case When the Court Considers Sanctioning Your Attorney

The Tax Court had a routine decision today in a collection matter. The case itself (Best v. Commissioner) isn’t particularly interesting; the Court upheld the IRS’s collection efforts. It’s the last page and a half of the decision that caught my attention.

The petitioners in the case had filed a previous Tax Court case which they settled back in 2009.

We sustained substantial portions of the deficiencies in tax that respondent determined along with additions to tax for both failure to timely file a return and failure to timely pay tax and for failure to pay estimated tax. We entered decision in docket No. 22241-07 on January 2, 2009. Petitioners were represented in that case by their present counsel, Donald W. MacPherson.

The petitioners lost today, and they also were sanctioned $5,000 for frivolous arguments.

The interesting part is at the end of the decision.

Section 6673(a)(2)(A) empowers us to impose on a taxpayer’s counsel who multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously the excessive costs reasonably incurred on account of such conduct. We may sua sponte impose such costs. See Edwards v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2002-169, aff’d, 119 Fed. Appx. 293 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Leach v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1993-215.

As to what Judge Halpern saw that led him to this extreme, the opinion notes,

Although we have found petitioners deserving of a section 6673(a)(1) penalty, we believe that Mr. MacPherson’s conduct may be deserving of a sanction for unreasonably and unnecessarily bringing and prolonging these proceedings. Indeed, in his declaration in support of petitioners’ response to respondent’s motion to impose a sanction on petitioners, he acknowledges that, following the earlier deficiency proceeding in this case, petitioners “had a major collection problem and * * * I decided to try the assessment issue believing there is some chance of lack of proper assessment which will result in voiding the assessment and causing the clients to be free of the debt as a result of the statute of limitations”. He concedes, however: “I concluded many years ago that the ’23C issue’ was a ‘dead letter’ in so far as obtaining the 23C.”

The goal of the Tax Court is for the two sides, whenever possible, to settle their cases and to move expeditiously. The only time I can remember an attorney being sanctioned was when an attorney filed a pro se action in his mother’s estate. The Tax Court was not amused by what appeared to be delaying tactics of the probate case in King County (Washington) Superior Court and the Tax Court. In that previous case, the attorney filed a probate action in 1995; he filed a Tax Court action in 2000. Come 2008 and both actions were still ongoing. As I wrote back in 2008, the thirteenth time wasn’t the charm.

In this case, the Court sees an attorney take years on a collection matter, when he (the attorney) admits that his clients have a collection issue, and that the main issue being argued wouldn’t work. I do want to point out that the Court has not sanctioned the attorney today; he is being given an opportunity to show cause as why the Tax Court should not impose a sanction.

Case: Best v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2014-72

One Response to “It’s Probably Not Good for Your Case When the Court Considers Sanctioning Your Attorney”

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