Tax Court interviews conclude; deliberations begin

October 27, 2010
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Reporter Mike Hoskins wrote this post.

Here is the final set of three interviews, after the commission interviewed four earlier today.

Martha Wentworth: Responding to the question about what a tax judge contributes to jurisprudence and the overall judiciary, Wentworth said she looked back on many years of “State of the Judiciary” speeches to analyze the journey the state judiciary has taken. She said the Tax Court uses its regular court tools to address substantive tax jurisprudence, but also uses those tools on constitutional questions and principles of administration. You have to bring personality to any job that you have, she said, and a look back at her experience shows she has spent time advocating for continuing education and professionalism and collegiality.

Judges can’t and shouldn’t legislate, but the Tax Court can help lawmakers understand tax law and issues. Unintended consequences of state statute changes seems to be the most frequent issue, and she’s a true believer that everyone must work together to some extent in understanding the challenges of the legislature and executive branch and the tax court itself. Wentworth said the state faces so many intriguing and challenging legal questions on tax law, such as what is considered distortion on taxes, the amount of discretion the Department of Revenue has in allowing separate corporate entities to file separate or joint returns, and how the state agency can discretionarily change federal taxable income. While Wentworth acknowledged that she’d be giving up a lot professionally, she said it’s worth it because of the pride she takes in Indiana having fair and strong caselaw, and ensuring that Indiana stand outs on tax law and in the overall judiciary.

Dan Carwile: He sees a transition from the private sector to this as completely appropriate, and said he’s demonstrated that he’s a leader in his community and profession. Through its regular court resources and the programs the state judiciary offers, the Tax Court judge can address the economic issues and sometimes can address a poor public perception of the court system. Judges can go too far and be too aggressive in communicating with the legislature, he said, and a balance must be struck through scholarly writing and presentations and even in general expertise-sharing with lawmakers. The next Tax Court judge must be a strategic thinker in helping the judiciary move forward, and caseload efficiency is an important part of that, as is protecting and enhancing Indiana’s national reputation as a leader. He sees tax exemptions on property as an issue that will likely be before the court more regularly in coming years.

Hon. Carol Comer: Judge Comer talked about her 15 years on the administrative and regulatory side of the law and five years as Administrative Law Judge. She believes this experience, particularly in handling small docket type claims, has paved the way for this judicial opening and her work in this area gives her insight into what pro se litigants face. She says the court process is frightening to non-lawyers, and that the judiciary and Tax Court must do its best to offer transparency and access to the public. She said claims can act as summons and the court’s Web page can offer more information about enacting court procedures. Possible moves could be to create a sample docket for the public to see how a case might proceed, or to create a hotline for people to learn about the process and what to expect. Just as the Department of Revenue allows for online tax filing and payment, the court could do something like that to increase public accessibility. In the past several years, she’s observed a tremendous change in how the state agencies work on these tax and financial issues and that the Board of Tax Review has become more impartial for taxpayers and regular reversals isn’t the norm any longer.
 

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