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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. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  2. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  3. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  4. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

  5. Dear Fan, let me help you correct the title to your post. "ACLU is [Left] most of the time" will render it accurate. Just google it if you doubt that I am, err, "right" about this: "By the mid-1930s, Roger Nash Baldwin had carved out a well-established reputation as America’s foremost civil libertarian. He was, at the same time, one of the nation’s leading figures in left-of-center circles. Founder and long time director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Baldwin was a firm Popular Fronter who believed that forces on the left side of the political spectrum should unite to ward off the threat posed by right-wing aggressors and to advance progressive causes. Baldwin’s expansive civil liberties perspective, coupled with his determined belief in the need for sweeping socioeconomic change, sometimes resulted in contradictory and controversial pronouncements. That made him something of a lightning rod for those who painted the ACLU with a red brush." http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/roger-baldwin-2/ "[George Soros underwrites the ACLU' which It supports open borders, has rushed to the defense of suspected terrorists and their abettors, and appointed former New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its Advisory Board." http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237 "The creation of non-profit law firms ushered in an era of progressive public interest firms modeled after already established like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") to advance progressive causes from the environmental protection to consumer advocacy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_lawyering

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