A longtime lawyer and tax specialist received an early Christmas gift this week, learning that she’ll be the state’s newest Tax Court judge and the first woman to hold a seat on that bench.
Gov. Mitch Daniels announced on Wednesday that he has selected Martha B. Wentworth as the second-ever Indiana Tax Court judge, succeeding Judge Thomas G. Fisher when he retires Jan. 1. The governor chose Wentworth over two other finalists selected by the Judicial Nominating Commission in late October: Bloomington attorney Joby Jerrells and Hendricks Superior Judge Karen Love.
Wentworth, 62, becomes the second person to hold that position, as Judge Fisher was chosen when the state created the appellate tax court in 1986. She’ll hold that position for two years until voters decide whether to retain her. If retained, she will serve a 10-year term.
“I am just truly honored, and this is pretty wondrous,” she said after the governor’s office announced her appointment. Wentworth received a call from the governor on Dec. 20 notifiying her of the appointment.
"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," she said. "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."
Before beginning her legal career, Wentworth owned her own businesses in the 1970s and 1980s. She worked as a self-employed franchisee owner and owned residential rental property before enrolling in law school in the mid-1980s in what is now Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
Graduating cum laude in the top 40 percent of her class and admitted to practice in 1990, Wentworth started her legal career clerking for Judge Fisher from 1990 to 1992 and then went to work for six years as a tax attorney at the Indianapolis firm of Hall Render Killian Heath & Lyman. Though she was about to become a partner at the firm, Wentworth took a risk and left in 1998 to begin working at multistate accounting firm Deloitte Tax LLP in Indianapolis, where she has served as a senior tax manager, level 1 firm tax director and level 2 tax director.
Though she has not actively practiced law in her position at Deloitte, Wentworth remained active in organizations such as the Indiana State Bar Association’s Tax Section and taught tax law in various capacities through the years. She’s also taught graduate level classes in state and local taxes at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business since 2000.
During her interviews with the Judicial Nominating Commission, Wentworth said the state faces 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.
Wentworth will start her new position Jan. 1, after she spends the holiday overseas with family. One of the biggest things she’ll have to get used to is being referred to as, “Your honor,” she said with a laugh.
“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.
A robing ceremony will be held in early 2011, but no date has been set.