Indiana Tax Court Judge Martha Wentworth has denied the State Department of Revenue’s attempt to disqualify the two attorneys representing a company in a refund dispute.
Attorneys Robert Romack and Dan Dunbar are president and vice president, respectively, of ROAR Consulting. Utilimaster hired ROAR Consulting to calculate the amount of natural gas it needed for use in its production process. The data was used to file for a refund of Indiana gross retail (sales) and use tax remitted on purchase of natural gas.
The Indiana Department of State Revenue granted a refund, but in a reduced amount. Utilimaster then filed an appeal with the Tax Court with Romack and Dunbar entering appearances as the company’s counsel of record. After the discovery deadline had passed, the Department of Revenue sought to reopen discovery, claiming it just learned that Romack and Dunbar admitted that ROAR had conducted the utility study. The department also filed for a motion to disqualify the two attorneys pursuant to Indiana Professional Conduct Rule 3.7 on the basis that they would be necessary witnesses at trial.
The study by ROAR does nothing more than provide the total square footage of Utilimaster’s facility and the portion of that square footage used in the manufacturing process, wrote Wentworth in Utilimaster Corporation v. Indiana Dept. of State Revenue, No. 71T10-1008-TA-43. This information is easily ascertainable, and employees of Utilimaster could testify about the company’s manufacturing processing and use of space.
In addition, the department could have discovered that ROAR was involved in the project before the discovery period ended, because when Utilimaster filed for its refund, it noted that it was with assistance from ROAR. The refund claim was also signed by Romack as ROAR’s president.
“The Department has invoked Professional Conduct Rule 3.7 in an attempt to conceal its failure to timely pursue discovery as well as to remove Utilimaster’s attorneys from the case, calling their professionalism into question. The Court will not countenance the Rule’s abuse as a procedural weapon by invading Utilimaster’s right to counsel of its choice,” she wrote.