The Legal Advocate

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NITA Legal Editor Takes “Learning by Doing” to Court – and Wins

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By guest blogger Virginia Judd, NITA Legal Editor

When I first joined NITA, I was working ¾-time as a legal editor and still practicing bankruptcy law. About a year into my NITA life, I had clients who had fallen behind on property taxes and were threatened with foreclosure. After I filed their Chapter 13 plan, the IRS filed a very large claim based on an unfiled tax return from many years ago. Of course this elderly couple no longer had the paperwork necessary to determine the actual tax owed, so I requested it from the IRS. When they didn’t respond, I filed a motion to dismiss their claim, figuring that it would at least get some action out of them.

The IRS never filed a reply, and so when the day of the hearing came, I stood before the judge, confirmed that I had properly served the government, and waited for a ruling.

“Well . . . ,” the judge said, “they are awfully busy over there. I think I’ll adjourn this hearing for a month.”

Before I started working for NITA, I would have accepted his ruling—he’s the judge, after all. But now, I’m a better advocate.

“Your Honor,” I said, heart in my throat. “If I missed a response deadline, you would not extend it for my clients. And I’m a solo practitioner. The IRS has thousands of employees. They should not be excused from the rules of this court.”

He looked at me, perplexed. “Are you asking me to rule on this motion today?” There was challenge in his voice, as if he thought my request astounding.

“I’m asking for a default judgment based on the IRS’s lack of response, yes.”

“You know they can just file another claim,” he said.

“Yes,” I answered, my trepidation diminishing. “And when they do, we will challenge it again. Right now I have an elderly couple who are trying to keep their home. Without the IRS claim, they can afford their plan and succeed. So we will deal with that claim when it arrives.”

Because of my NITA training, I stood up for my clients, and the judge ruled in their favor, dismissing the IRS claim. They are now two payments away from having their house free and clear of property tax liens.

And the IRS never did refile a claim.

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NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system.

NITA’s Goals are to:

  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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