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Retirement of a Friend and a Leadership Transition Impacting Tax Procedure

Posted on May 24, 2016

On June 3 a great lawyer and my long time friend and colleague at Chief Counsel’s Office, Chris Sterner, will retire.  He made it to the top of his profession.  Not enough attention gets paid to the individuals who dedicate themselves to government service and who do it so well that they become the top civil servant in their agency.  Chris will retire as the Deputy Chief Counsel (Operations).  He has been in the job for over seven years which has to be one of the longest runs in that position in the history of Chief Counsel’s office.  He has performed the job during very challenging times as the IRS budget has shrunk considerably, the Congressional inquiries have increased exponentially and his client has faced many legal tests.  Quietly, and without drama, he provided leadership during these times.

Chris and I both started with Chief Counsel’s office in 1977.  We first met in 1985 when we taught a course together for new attorneys on collection law at the Pensacola Naval Air Station.  The office held training programs on military bases for a few years in an effort to save money.  It cost $4 a night to stay in the Bachelors Officers Quarters.  While Chris’ expertise in collection law caused him to get selected to teach that course, he excelled in Tax Court work and became one of the first field attorneys to get a higher grade for his litigation expertise.

He started in the busiest field office – Manhattan.  Though he grew up on Staten Island in a somewhat suburban setting as a budding alligator farmer, he abandoned New York City for the more pastoral region of Albany after only a short time in the big city office.  He would probably be retiring now from the Albany office still living the home he built on a nearby lake if fate had not intervened and forced him to move away.  In 1995, the Office of Chief Counsel decided to reorganize and eliminate several small offices as a cost savings move.  It closed the Albany office and forced him to relocate or leave Chief Counsel.  Fortunately, he landed in Richmond where we had the chance to work together for a few years before another reorganization sent him across the country and on his way to becoming the Deputy Chief Counsel.

My small part in getting him to come to Richmond was one of my greatest accomplishments as District Counsel.  His arrival was not without some cultural trauma.  He hung a picture of Abraham Lincoln in his office. While I like Mr. Lincoln, I had to remind Chris that Mr. Lincoln was not the most revered president among the citizens of Richmond some of whom still seem fixated on the South’s defeat.  I notice that the official announcement of his retirement, copied below, left off his time in Richmond as part of his increasingly important positions on the way to becoming the Deputy Chief Counsel. The author of that piece probably just failed to understand the importance of Chris’ time in the South as part of his path to the top. Despite being transplanted to a place outside his cultural comfort zone, he adapted very well.  I still remember introducing him to Krispy Kreme donuts and the Smokey Pig barbeque.

As the Deputy Chief Counsel he oversees the parts of Chief Counsel’s office that handle litigation.  I can only imagine how he manages to stay on top of all of the different types of litigation, Congressional inquiries and other forms of work that come his way.  I know he does it with extreme efficiency and great insight.  As the wave of retirements continues to wash over the IRS at all levels of the organization, it will lose a truly great attorney with Chris’ retirement.  He has had a terrific run.  The office has had the luxury of an extremely knowledgeable leader with an enormous amount of experience.  I wish for him an even more success in retirement than he has enjoyed during his government service.

The official announcement of his retirement provided the following brief information about Chris and some details about his successor:

Christopher B. Sterner has announced his plans to retire on June 3, 2016.  Mr. Sterner has been a key leader in some of the most significant changes to the tax administration system, particularly in its enforcement capacity.

Mr. Sterner served the Office of Chief Counsel with great distinction and dedication for the past 38 years.  He began his career as a docket attorney in New York City in 1977 and held many increasingly important positions including Special Litigation Assistant, Area Counsel, Deputy Division Counsel, Division Counsel, and in 2009 he was selected as the Deputy Chief Counsel (Operations) for the Office of Chief Counsel, IRS.  In all of these positions, Mr. Sterner demonstrated his unique technical skills expertise and exceptional leadership abilities.

Debra K. Moe will be appointed to the position of Deputy Chief Counsel (Operations) and Mr. Bruce Meneely, currently the Deputy Division Counsel, Small Business/Self-Employed (SB/SE) Division, will be reassigned to the position of Division Counsel, SB/SE, in Washington, DC both will begin their new positions on June 4, 2016.

Ms. Moe has 31 years of government service, all with the IRS, Office of Chief Counsel.  She has held the position of Division Counsel (SB/SE) since April 2015.  Over the past year, Ms. Moe has been responsible for coordinating her Division’s U.S. Tax Court and Bankruptcy Court litigation functions, as well as providing support to the Collection, Examination, and Operations functions for the Commissioner of the SB/SE Division of the Internal Revenue Service.

Ms. Moe received her B.S. in Criminal Justice from Michigan State University in 1979, and her J.D. from Thomas M. Cooley Law School, East Lansing Michigan, cum laude, in 1982.  She has been a member of the California Bar since 1982.

Mr. Meneely has held the position of Deputy Division Counsel (SB/SE) since January 2014.  He was selected as Deputy as part of the succession plan for the Division Counsel position.  Over the past two years, Mr. Meneely has worked side by side with the Division Counsel, coordinating U.S. Tax Court and Bankruptcy Court litigation functions, as well as providing support to the Collection, Examination, and Operations functions for the Commissioner of the SB/SE Division of the Internal Revenue Service.

Mr. Meneely received his B.A. from Gettysburg College in 1979.  He received his J.D. (Law and Taxation), cum laude, from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1983.

Debra and Bruce will do well heading the legal positions that have a great impact on tax procedure.  The country loses as a great attorney as Chris heads into retirement.

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