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Tax Court Building Reopens

Posted on June 7, 2022

While it may not matter to most practitioners, the Tax Court building reopened to the public on Monday, June 6.  Here is the announcement the Court released on June 3 regarding the reopening:

Washington, D.C. 20217

June 3, 2022


Beginning June 6, 2022, the Tax Court’s Washington, D.C. courthouse will be open to the public, and its Records Office will be accessible during the Court’s regular business hours, 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Questions should be directed to the Public Affairs Office at (202) 521-3355.

The reopening of the Tax Court building, which has been closed for most of the period since March 2020 when most of the United States shut down in response to COVID, means that persons interested in the public records of Tax Court cases who can get themselves to the Judiciary Square area of Washington, D.C., can now view the records at no cost by going to the Records Office. The Records Office contains a small space where, unless things have changed, two computer terminals provide access to case information at no cost to the person sitting at the terminal. It also means that a person who can get to the Records Office can make an in person request for documents in Tax Court cases and obtain them immediately without having to wait to call the office and go through the procedure to order documents.

As we discussed previously, the Tax Court announced proposed rule changes in March.  The Tax Clinic at Harvard commented on those rules as did other parties including the ABA Tax Section, the Center for Taxpayer Rights and the IRS.  The Tax Court posts comments made to it on its web site; however, as of the time of writing this blog post, it had not posted the comments on the rule changes proposed in March of 2022.  So, I cannot link to the IRS comments because I do not have them, and I do not know if there were comments made by others.  The four groups that regularly comment on rules in recent years are the ABA Tax Section, the IRS, the Texas State Bar and the Harvard Tax Clinic; however, individuals also occasionally comment as well.  The comment process provides an excellent opportunity to provide the Court with your views.  I am somewhat surprised that the Court does not receive more comments.

Of course, the Court does not need to accept the views expressed, and it need not explain why it does or does not accept the views expressed in comments. The Administrative Procedure Act does not govern the Court’s rulemaking process. While a judge may occasionally make a statement at an ABA Tax Section meeting or some other setting about the Court’s consideration of rules, the process of considering comments remains, by and large, veiled in secrecy. Even though I do not have a great track record on having my views adopted, I feel that the Court considers them and appreciate the opportunity to formally express them.

Speaking of expressing my views, I will tie the Tax Clinic at Harvard’s most recent comment on access to records into the reopening of the Court.  While the reopening of the Court offers an alternative to some to reach the public records at the Court, for most persons seeking those records a trip to the Records Office may prove too expensive in time or money.  In the most recent comments, the Harvard Clinic suggested an improvement on the current remote access to records provision which requires a phone call to the Records Office.  I have written before about the process.

Sometimes a person at the Records Office answers the phone when you call seeking records. If no one answers, you leave a message and someone calls you back in a few hours or a few days. If someone answers, they take your request and tell you they will get back to you in several business days. The process regularly involves phone tag at the beginning or the end or both. The suggestion of the Harvard Clinic was to eliminate the phone tag part of the process by creating a fax number into which your records order could be faxed (together with a form for the request) or a dedicated email account into which you could email your request. Allowing the requester to fax or email the request would eliminate the phone tag that occurs now when requesting records and allow members of the office staff to avoid the sometimes lengthy conversations regarding requests for documents from multiple cases.

Now that the Court and the Records Office have reopened, a lucky few can more easily access the public records available at the Tax Court but closely guarded. A good small step to reopening after the pandemic closure.

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