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DAWSON is Awesome

Posted on Jan. 6, 2021

We welcome back guest blogger Steve Milgrom. Steve is the litigation coordinator at the low income taxpayer clinic located at the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. He provides a thoughtful voice on tax procedure issues facing low income taxpayers. Today, he provides an initial and very positive reaction to the Tax Court’s new electronic case filing system, DAWSON. We have written about DAWSON before here, here and here.

Because I was waiting for DAWSON to go live in order to file some documents, I experienced it on the first day it opened. I found it to be easy to use. I echo Steve’s remarks about the positive feature of filing petitions electronically. While the high number of pro se taxpayers coming to the Tax Court almost certainly means it will continue to receive paper petitions for some time, the prospect of filing a petition electronically and knowing it is timely filed provides a wonderful improvement over the myriad of situations in which something can go wrong when filing a paper return. This is not to say that nothing can go wrong when filing electronically as we have seen with the electronic filing of returns but the ability to manage the problem seems much greater. Keith

DAWSON! As a tax lawyer who already talks in Code, I’ve added a new word to my lexicon. DAWSON! What a fabulous word it is! And it didn’t even take an act of Congress.

Dawson is the name given to the Tax Court’s new case management system. If this is the wonkiest thing I’ve ever celebrated I don’t know what is. Why the celebration? With the role out of Dawson on December 26th the Tax Court now permits Petitions to be e-filed. And yes, December 26th was a Sunday. Someone was actually working the weekend to get it going.

Those of us who read Tax Court opinions for fun know the havoc that a snowstorm in D.C. can play with Taxpayer Rights. For some unknown reason many taxpayers, and even some practitioners, want to spend more than the cost of a first class stamp to send their Petitions to the Tax Court. If one chose the wrong delivery service and the Petition didn’t arrive by the 90th day following the mailing of a Notice of Deficiency, the taxpayer lost their right to engage in a pre-assessment challenge to the IRS’s determination that they owed the government more money. See Guralnik v. Commissioner, 146 T.C. 230 (2016). That’s a big loss and a big black eye for any practitioner who missed the filing deadline due to hiring someone other than the U.S. Post Office to deliver a Petition. But what an inequitable result due to an act of God! Well, Keith and Carl Smith fought this battle in many different venues with little success. One wonders if this is what pushed Carl into full retirement?

Wherefore Dawson? The Tax Court decided to honor the late Judge Howard A. Dawson, Jr., who was first appointed to the Tax Court by President Kennedy in 1962, was reappointed by President Nixon, and went on Senior status in 1985. According to the Tax Court’s web site he was known as a meticulous record keeper, which is probably what inspired the naming of a case management system in his honor.

I propose a plaque be placed on the Tax Court building in his honor, designating him as the founder of the 21st Century Tax Court. We all owe Judge Dawson a hurrah for his contribution to the court’s recognition of the importance of e-filing to Taxpayer Rights. Each step that simplifies our dealings with the government is to be celebrated. If someone from the Court wants to contact me, I will personally pay for the plaque.

Now if we could just get the Tax Court to give us equal access to court filings. While Chief Judge Foley recently wrote that the pandemic has revealed that geography is not a barrier to connection, it sure is a barrier to Taxpayer Rights. Just like other Federal courts, the Tax Court’s records should be available for remote viewing so we can all have the benefit of learning from what others do in their cases.  I never met Judge Dawson but I hope he would support additional access to the Court for the millions of taxpayers and practitioners who don’t live in D.C.

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