Government attorneys, private practitioner named Tax Court finalists; afternoon candidates talk possible changes to court

IL file photo

Two government attorneys and one private practitioner have been named finalists in the search for Indiana’s next Tax Court judge.

The Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission on Tuesday named Kevin A. Halloran of Quarles & Brady LLP and Justin L. McAdam and Patrick W. Price, both of the Office of Management and Budget, as finalists to succeed current Judge Martha Blood Wentworth, who will retire from the Tax Court bench later this year after 12 years.

The names of the finalists will now be sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who will have 60 days from receiving their names to select Indiana’s next Tax Court judge.

A total of 10 candidates applied to succeed Wentworth. The seven-member Indiana Judicial Nominating Commission, led by Chief Justice Loretta Rush, interviewed the first five candidates on Tuesday morning.

The remaining five candidates who were interviewed Tuesday afternoon talked about changes they would consider making to the court, along with what makes a good judge and where their interest in tax law comes from.

Applications and other information about the vacancy can be found online.

Here’s what candidates had to say in their 30-minute interviews.

Joseph Pearman

Joseph Pearman, a tax attorney in Crown Point, said he would be a good Tax Court judge because he understands it’s difficult to know everything about tax law.

“I am not afraid to ask questions,” he said. “People who feel they know everything are dangerous.”

Pearman also applied in 2010 for the Tax Court vacancy. Since then, he said he’s learned to control the things he can and not worry about the rest.

Asked why he’s applying again, Pearman, a 1993 Valparaiso University School of Law graduate, admitted his reasoning is partially “selfish.” Fact patterns have started to emerge and repeat over his years of work as an attorney, he said, and the work isn’t as exciting now, so the next logical step in his career is a judgeship.

Pearman said one thing he would like to change about the Tax Court is the “shifting burden of proof,” which he said has created “disarray” in the property tax field.

Kimberly Wright

Kimberly Wright, deputy public defender in Tippecanoe County, said she would first take time to get familiar with the Tax Court and make gradual adjustments along the way.

“I’m a strong believer in not changing things right away,” she said.

Wright, a 1997 Valparaiso Law graduate, said the three most important qualities for the next Tax Court judge to have are attention to detail, organization and humility.

She said even if there’s an issue she feels like she understands, she will still “dig in” and learn.

“I look things up,” Wright said. “I ask questions.”

As a fun fact, Wright said she watched “Law & Order” with her law school roommate, and they would go back to check case citations on the show. A lot of times, she said they were accurate.

Evan Bartel

Evan Bartel, deputy director and general counsel at the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency, floated the idea of putting the trial court portion of the Tax Court into the Commercial Courts, then creating a tax appellate body.

The Tax Court needs modified, he said, but not done away with.

For improvements, Bartel said he would try to do a better job of communicating with practitioners.

Bartel, a 2013 Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law graduate, said he likes being on the tax side because he can take something that isn’t working well and make it better.

“I love the complexity of it,” he said.

Justin McAdam

Justin McAdam, deputy director and chief legal counsel at the Office of Management and Budget, said he would address two main concerns with the Tax Court based on talking to people who have experience with the court.

First, McAdam said he would make the court operate more efficiently. He said 90 days is an appropriate amount of time to issue a decision.

Second, he said he would try to address the structure of the court because the caseload is “relatively low.”

McAdam, a 2011 Harvard Law School graduate, said his strengths include a broad perspective of Indiana’s tax system. A weakness, he said, is a lack of trial experience.

McAdam said the tax system can be complex, but decisions should be digestible.

“You have to explain that in a way people can understand,” he said.

John Lowrey

The final interview of the day was with John Lowrey, deputy chief litigation counsel for the city of Indianapolis.

Lowrey said while it’s important for opinions to be written well and easy to follow, they should come in a 30-60-day window.

“There are effects of decisions beyond the litigants that are in front of the Tax Court,” he said.

Lowrey, a 2010 IU Maurer School of Law graduate who clerked for Judge Wentworth from 2016 to 2018, said one of his strengths is that he has “a lot of enthusiasm,” which he said would be important for a one-judge courtroom.

Lowrey also previously worked in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Attorney General’s Office.

“I like complexity,” he said when asked where his passion for tax law comes from. “I like finding patterns of rules and figuring out how they interact with each other.”

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