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From Treasury to Solo Practice: Desmond’s Experience May Help IRS

POSTED ON Mar. 6, 2018

The announcement of Michael J. Desmond as nominee to be IRS chief counsel has been warmly received by tax practitioners who highlight the benefit of the variety of his private practice and government experiences.

“Mike Desmond is perhaps the best possible choice for chief counsel,” Jasper L. Cummings, Jr., of Alston & Bird LLP told Tax Analysts. He pointed to Desmond’s multiple levels of government experience, his current tax litigation practice, and his possession of “the best lawyerly traits of approaching matters in an orderly, reasonable, and timely fashion.”

Jorge Castro of Castro Strategies LLC described the choice of Desmond as “phenomenal” and said that his combination of private and government experience will be a particular benefit to the IRS as it attempts to implement the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (P.L. 115-97). Desmond’s Treasury experience will help the efforts to move guidance swiftly, Castro added.

Desmond currently has a solo practice focused on tax controversy issues at the Law Office of Michael J. Desmond in Santa Barbara, California. Before that, he had been a partner at Bingham McCutchen LLP and its predecessor McKee Nelson LLP. From 2005 to 2008, Desmond worked at Treasury as tax legislative counsel, and before that, he had been a trial attorney in the Justice Department Tax Division.

The White House announced President Trump’s intention to nominate Desmond for chief counsel in a March 2 release. The nomination must still be officially transmitted to the Senate and approved by that body.

Desmond’s Tax Division experience will be valuable to the IRS’s enforcement efforts, Castro said, adding that Desmond will be a great asset to IRS commissioner nominee Charles Rettig. “His experience is extremely complementary to Rettig’s,” Castro added.

Shamik Trivedi of Grant Thornton LLP agreed that the combination of Rettig and Desmond will leave the IRS “in really good hands.” Desmond “is a tremendous choice to lead the chief counsel’s office and offers the unique perspective of not just having prior experience in government, but also advising taxpayers as part of a large law practice and a solo practice,” Trivedi added.

Castro, a former senior IRS official and congressional tax counsel, described Desmond as thoughtful and methodical, and noted that he has worked with Desmond both at McKee Nelson and in the government when both were in government roles.

Cummings also noted that he worked with Desmond on American Bar Association and Practicing Law Institute programs and that Desmond wrote the introduction to the second edition of Cummings’s The Supreme Court’s Federal Tax Jurisprudence treatise. Cummings predicted that chief counsel personnel will find Desmond to be a pleasure to work with.

Karen L. Hawkins, former director of the IRS Office of Professional Responsibility, said that ever since she first encountered Desmond as an adversary in the 1980s, she has been impressed by his thoughtfulness, transparency, sense of fairness, and willingness to both talk and listen. “All of which I think are fabulous qualities to have in a chief counsel,” she said.

Hawkins, now chair of the ABA Section of Taxation, noted both Desmond’s and Rettig’s leadership roles within the tax section, where Desmond serves as council director and Rettig is a vice-chair for administration.

Hawkins recalled the letter the ABA tax section sent to Congress in January calling for proper funding of the IRS and for quick action to confirm both a new IRS commissioner and a new IRS chief counsel once there were nominees. She said that filling the IRS’s only two appointed positions is critical to the agency’s functioning. “Ensuring that they are in place sooner rather than later will benefit the entire country, particularly at a time when there is a new tax bill that everyone is pulling their hair out about,” she added.