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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. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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