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Admission to Tax Court, Access to the Tax Court Clerk’s Office and Murdock Award

Posted on Nov. 2, 2020

Two recent announcements from the Tax Court bear mention related to getting into the Tax Court bar and getting into the Tax Court building. A press release in September announced that Chief Special Trial Judge Carluzzo received the Court’s Murdock Award and that deserves discussion and recognition.

Attorney Admission

The Court recently revised Form 30. It uses this form for attorneys seeking admission to practice before the Tax Court. On May 4, 2020, the Court issued a press release with Form 30 containing the longstanding requirement that the attorney applying for admission to the Tax Court have the admission request notarized. The Court has revisited its admissions application form to remove the requirement that the applicant have the form notarized and permit the applicant to affirm that the information contained in the form is true under penalties of perjury. The change permits applicants to apply without having to potentially interact with a third person during the pandemic and conforms to the federal statute allowing a statement of this type to substitute for a notarized statement.

Getting admitted to the Tax Court is an easy and straightforward process for any attorney in good standing of the highest bar of a state. Basically, you just need to submit a certificate of good standing from your state bar along with the brief application and $50 to become a lifetime member of the Tax Court bar. Like most things with the Tax Court, it is a bargain compared to other federal courts. Starting in May 2020 the Court allowed attorneys seeking admission to email the application to the Court’s admissions office. Payment would occur through Pay.gov the same portal used for paying the fee for documents ordered from the clerk’s office.

Building Entry

On Friday October 30 the Tax Court announced in a press release that delivery of documents to the clerk’s office was suspended. The press release notes that mailing documents to the Court works and efiling remains available.

When the Tax Court reopened its clerk’s office this summer, it did not reopen the building. The announcement reopening the building did not allow persons to deliver documents to the clerk’s office. We speculated in a post about how the inability to personally deliver documents to the clerk’s office impacted the suspension of time allowed by the case of Guralnik v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. 230 (2016). The Court then issued a second press release allowing the delivery of documents to the clerk’s office, which opened up the Tax Court building in a small way starting July 10, 2020.

The press release on October 30 closes the door, so to speak, of the Tax Court to any outsider eliminating one possible way to deliver documents to the Court. Although we speculated on how this closed portal to the clerk’s office might impact time frames based on Guralnik, I would not want to test out the closure of personal access to the clerk’s office as a basis for obtaining more time to file a petition. In reaching the decision in Guralnik that it would treat the closure of the clerk’s office as a reason for granting a petitioner additional time to file a petition, the Court looked to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 since the Tax Court had no rule regarding closure of the clerk’s office. We discuss Guralnik generally here, here and here. FRCP 4 does not address partial closure of a clerk’s office, viz., closure for personal delivery while remaining open for everything else. I could find no cases on this issue.

For petitioners and practitioners in most of the country the complete closing of the Tax Court building does not matter. Almost no one outside of Washington physically goes to the clerk’s office to submit documents; however, we know from the recent debates surrounding voting in person that doing something in person rather than by mail permits a finality that mailing delays and can deny. The complete building closure will protect Court employees as the pandemic ramps up again and will have little impact on the vast majority of those seeking to petition the Tax Court.

Murdock Award

In 2012 the Tax Court presented the Murdock Award to the previous Chief Special Trial Judge Peter Panuthos. I had the opportunity to go to the ceremony held by the Court on the occasion of the award presentation to Judge Panuthos. The ceremony and the speakers did a great job of highlighting the important work that Judge Panuthos has done, and continues to do, on the Court for the pro se petitioners and for low income taxpayers in general. As the announcement mentions, Judge Panuthos was only the 9th recipient of the award. The Court does not give this award lightly.

I missed the press release issued on September 9, linked above, that the Court has bestowed the award upon Chief Special Trial Judge Lewis Carluzzo and only discovered it in reading the releases for this post. Because receiving the award is a big deal and because Judge Carluzzo is a very deserving recipient, the granting of the award deserves mention. In a time when it can be hard to find something good to lift your spirits, the Tax Court has provided an opportunity for feeling that something positive has happened. I assume that once the Court reopens it will also have a public ceremony honoring Judge Carluzzo, but in the meantime we can honor him in print and with calls and emails of congratulation.

Judge Carluzzo has been on the Court over 25 years after working in Chief Counsel’s Office for almost two decades and creating a distinguished career there before joining the Court. I knew him first as an attorney in Chief Counsel with a reputation as an outstanding trial lawyer. As a judge I know him to be a tireless defender of pro se litigants in the path forged by Judge Panuthos. Judge Carluzzo is always willing to speak to or assist in training of clinicians. He knows how to run a courtroom in which it is clear who is in charge but also clear that he cares for people appearing before him and wants to get it right. The Tax Court chose him to feature on its videos demonstrating remote trials. If you have not had the chance to see him presiding in person, check out the video.

Congratulations Judge Carluzzo on your well-deserved recognition.

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