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Pro Se Litigants Who Win: “favorable facts, obsessive organization, and fearlessness”


I too have a successful pro se litigant (in my public law library) who had these: “favorable facts, obsessive organization, and fearlessness.” As you’ll see from this Wall Street Journal article, it also takes a judge who is willing and able to see (and speak) when the emperor has no clothes. And in some cases with pro se litigants, it doesn’t hurt to have lawyers on the other side who rely more on muscle and tricks rather than on law. And of course, a little luck doesn’t hurt, either.

Nurse Outduels IRS Over M.B.A. Tuition: How One Woman Went to Tax Court and Won Deduction, by Laura Saunders, Wall Street Journal, Monday, January 11, 2010:

Excerpt: “A Maryland nurse accomplished two rare feats in her battle with the Internal Revenue Service: She defended herself against the agency’s lawyers and won, and she got a ruling that could help tens of thousands of students deduct the cost of an M.B.A. degree on their taxes….

Few taxpayers decide to go toe to toe with the IRS as Ms. Singleton-Clarke did, arguing her case without a lawyer. For good reason: In 2009, individuals won only about 10% of about 300 such cases, according to data from Tax Analysts. Ms. Singleton-Clarke fought her case in Tax Court, a venue where taxpayers don’t have to pay the contested tax before going to trial. The court has a special procedure for small cases….

Ms. Singleton-Clarke’s encounter with the tax system shows what it can take for one individual to prevail over the IRS against the long odds: favorable facts, obsessive organization, and fearlessness. She says she didn’t have a lawyer because she couldn’t afford one.

Both the IRS’s actions and her reactions are typical, says Christopher Bergin, president of Tax Analysts, a group that fights for tax-system transparency and since l972 has won a series of freedom-of-information cases against the IRS. “Without doing anything illegal, they muscled her. That’s what they do. The pressure can be terrifying,” he says….
(read full article)

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