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Indiana welcomes new Tax Court judge

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Long before law school and a legal career, Martha B. Wentworth owned a business and says her favorite part of that was paying her taxes.

That may be why it’s no wonder the lawyer who went to work at a multistate accounting firm where she heads up tax services has now become the state’s newest Tax Court judge. Wentworth is second person ever and the first woman to hold that appellate bench seat.

Gov. Mitch Daniels on Dec. 22 announced he had selected her as the state’s new Tax Court judge, succeeding outgoing Judge Thomas G. Fisher who retired at the end of 2010. Judge Fisher was the first judge named to that bench when it was created in 1986.

Martha Wentworth Wentworth

The governor chose Wentworth, 62, over two other finalists selected by the Judicial Nominating Commission in late October: Bloomington attorney Joby Jerrells and Hendricks Superior Judge Karen Love.

Wentworth holds this position for two years until voters decide whether to retain her. If retained, she’d serve a 10-year term.

A robing ceremony will likely be scheduled in early 2011, although a date has not been set.

“I am just truly honored, and this is pretty wondrous,” she said. “This is a pinnacle for someone who loves state taxation, and I’m just honored and humbled to be following in the footsteps of Judge Fisher. The personal joy I have is incalculable, and really the enormity of this, personally and professionally, is still sinking in. This is really a wonderful new adventure.”

Daniels credited her “decades-deep knowledge” of tax law and a strong reputation for fairness and consistency as reasons for choosing Wentworth, and he said she’d fill the role superbly.

Wentworth said she knew from the first day of law school that she wanted to be a tax lawyer, focusing primarily on federal taxation.

“I’d gone back to law school after having a business, so I’m a late-blooming attorney,” she said. “But the most fun I’d had was doing my taxes. I knew this is what I wanted to do.”

Graduating cum laude in the top 40 percent of her law school class and admitted to practice in 1990, Wentworth started her legal career clerking for Judge Fisher from 1990 to 1992, and she says that’s when she fell in love with state taxation. From there, she went to work for six years as a tax attorney at the Indianapolis firm of Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman.

Though she would have become the first woman partner at the law firm, Wentworth in 1998 took what she describes as a huge risk and joined the multistate accounting firm Deloitte Tax LLP in Indianapolis.

“I love taking complex tax issues and making them simple, and it’s fun trying to break down so people can understand what so many are so afraid of,” Wentworth said. “This is just a wonderful and wonder-filled area.”

Though she hasn’t been able to actively practice law with her position at Deloitte, Wentworth has remained active in organizations such as the Indiana State Bar Association’s Tax Section and taught tax law through the years. She’s also taught graduate-level classes in state and local taxation at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business since 2000.

wentworth Less than a week before Gov. Mitch Daniels announced that he’d chosen Martha B. Wentworth as the state’s newest Tax Court judge, all three finalists gathered at the retirement ceremony Dec. 17 for outgoing Judge Thomas G. Fisher. Pictured above from left to right are Joby Jerrells, Hendricks Superior Judge Karen Love, and Wentworth. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

During her second interview with the Judicial Nominating Commission, 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.

She said jobs are the most important issue for the state, especially in this economic climate, and tax law creates certainty for businesses that are trying to figure out what they can pay and who they can hire. The court must help shape a dynamic environment to encourage economic growth and job creation, she said.

“My goal is to maintain the tax court as a forum where devotion to the rule of law, fairness to all litigants, and professional civility are the benchmarks,” she said.

Reflecting on her appointment and the significance it has concerning diversity, Wentworth said she’s proud to offer more female representation on the state’s appellate bench.

“It’s great that we have women on the appellate bench; it’s imperative that we do. I’m glad to be able to join the others, but I don’t focus on that. My gender is not what I saw as a qualification or disqualification in this, but I am proud to be a role model.”

It appears that many in the Indiana legal community are praising the governor’s appointment and believe that Wentworth represents a good choice for the tax court.

“Most of the lawyers will be comfortable because we know she has much experience in this area,” said Barnes & Thornburg partner Larry Stroble, who heads up that firm’s taxation department and has been practicing in that appellate court since its creation. “When she steps in, she won’t have as much of a learning curve. Every judge will handle things a little differently, so everyone has to understand that Judge Wentworth won’t do things the same way as Judge Fisher. But I’m not worried about that at all.”•

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  • Kudos to Martha!
    Martha will do a great job as our new tax court judge. She truly does love tax law, and is an expert in that arena. Governor Daniels has made a great choice.

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  1. Call it unauthorized law if you must, a regulatory wrong, but it was fraud and theft well beyond that, a seeming crime! "In three specific cases, the hearing officer found that Westerfield did little to no work for her clients but only issued a partial refund or no refund at all." That is theft by deception, folks. "In its decision to suspend Westerfield, the Supreme Court noted that she already had a long disciplinary history dating back to 1996 and had previously been suspended in 2004 and indefinitely suspended in 2005. She was reinstated in 2009 after finally giving the commission a response to the grievance for which she was suspended in 2004." WOW -- was the Indiana Supreme Court complicit in her fraud? Talk about being on notice of a real bad actor .... "Further, the justices noted that during her testimony, Westerfield was “disingenuous and evasive” about her relationship with Tope and attempted to distance herself from him. They also wrote that other aggravating factors existed in Westerfield’s case, such as her lack of remorse." WOW, and yet she only got 18 months on the bench, and if she shows up and cries for them in a year and a half, and pays money to JLAP for group therapy ... back in to ride roughshod over hapless clients (or are they "marks") once again! Aint Hoosier lawyering a great money making adventure!!! Just live for the bucks, even if filthy lucre, and come out a-ok. ME on the other hand??? Lifetime banishment for blowing the whistle on unconstitutional governance. Yes, had I ripped off clients or had ANY disciplinary history for doing that I would have fared better, most likely, as that it would have revealed me motivated by Mammon and not Faith. Check it out if you doubt my reading of this, compare and contrast the above 18 months with my lifetime banishment from court, see appendix for Bar Examiners report which the ISC adopted without substantive review: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS

  2. Wow, over a quarter million dollars? That is a a lot of commissary money! Over what time frame? Years I would guess. Anyone ever try to blow the whistle? Probably not, since most Hoosiers who take notice of such things realize that Hoosier whistleblowers are almost always pilloried. If someone did blow the whistle, they were likely fired. The persecution of whistleblowers is a sure sign of far too much government corruption. Details of my own personal experience at the top of Hoosier governance available upon request ... maybe a "fake news" media outlet will have the courage to tell the stories of Hoosier whistleblowers that the "real" Hoosier media (cough) will not deign to touch. (They are part of the problem.)

  3. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  4. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

  5. A high ranking Indiana supreme Court operative caught red handed leading a group using the uber offensive N word! She must denounce or be denounced! (Or not since she is an insider ... rules do not apply to them). Evidence here: http://m.indianacompanies.us/friends-educational-fund-for-negroes.364110.company.v2#top_info

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