A lawyer who has refused to pay federal income taxes and declared he intended to continue doing so has been permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court.
The July 1 court opinion noted the case was unusual in that while other Bar members have been disciplined for failing to pay taxes, in this case the lawyer declared in oral arguments before the justices that he would continue to refuse to pay taxes.
The lawyer argued that the tax code and federal laws did not apply to him, an argument the court pointedly rejected. The justices noted basic legal research would have discovered court cases that specifically rejected the lawyer’s contentions.
The court said that while it has in the past disciplined lawyers for failing to file or pay their income taxes, “In this instance, however, our prior cases sanctioning lawyers for failing to file income tax returns or to pay income taxes provide only limited guidance because we are, for the first time, presented with a lawyer who declared at oral argument before this Court that he fully intends to maintain his current course of conduct, i.e., he will continue to not file federal income tax returns and to not pay federal income taxes on money he earns in his law practice, apparently until someone shows him a more definitive law or United States Supreme Court opinion that disabuses him of his faulty beliefs. Such a stance is anathema to an attorney’s ethical obligation to respect and obey the law.”
The court added, “While a lawyer, on behalf of a client or even on his own behalf, may raise any legal argument that he deems supported by law, he may not use his own unsupported interpretation of the laws to place himself above the law. We view [the lawyer’s] actions to be a violation of his basic ethical obligation as a lawyer and his intentional actions to be flagrant violations of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar.”
In mitigation, the court noted the attorney at the time he stopped paying income taxes had been injured in a serious automobile accident that also killed members of his family. However, the court also noted he had previously been publicly reprimanded and suspended for 90 days in earlier cases. In the present case, the referee also found that the attorney had failed to follow Bar trust accounting rules, although there were no allegations that any clients had lost money.
“[H]e has openly declared his intention at oral argument to persist in refusing to file income tax returns ‘[u]nless the law changes or unless someone can show me a law that makes me clearly liable for income tax, for federal income tax.’ By his own voluntary actions, [the lawyer] has forfeited his privilege to practice law.
“The only appropriate sanction under these circumstances — cumulative misconduct and a persistent course of unrepentant misconduct — is permanent disbarment from the practice of law.”
The lawyer was also ordered to pay the Bar’s costs of $21,086.72. The court acted in case no. SC07-661.