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February 15, 2013

Tax Court and the art of judicial writing

#Tax Court Judge Mark Holmes showcases fine judicial writing yet again, in a decision that might be of interest to lawyers everywhere.

A definite Suits & Sentences favorite for the consistent clarity, verve and wit of his writing style, Judge Holmes always seems to lay out each case with admirable forthrightness. In his latest 79-page opinion, Holmes starts this way:

"Three personal-injury lawyers from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas hit the jackpot in 2001 when each got paid over $1 million for their work in cases involving faulty Firestone tires. Each tried to reduce his tax bill with a complicated transaction that featured almost perfectly offsetting bets on foreign currency.

Each of these lawyers was in the business of estimating risk and reward in evaluating every case he considered, but in this instance each sought refuge in a tax shelter whose builders used flawed designs and constructed it from bad materials that do not survive close inspection."

See that? The conversational "hit the jackpot" is vivid and direct; the geographic reference to "Rio Grande Valley" and citation to "Firestone tires" provides specificity instead of generality and the summing up of the case tells the reader immediately what's going to be explained in later detail. As the opinion develops, Holmes shows as well his customary human sympathy even for characters he ends up ruling against.

Personal-injury lawyers and tax-shelter promoters should check this out



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"Suits & Sentences" is a legal affairs blog written by Michael Doyle, a reporter for McClatchy's Washington Bureau. He was a Knight Journalism Fellow at Yale Law School, where he earned a Master of Studies in Law; he also earned a Masters in Government from The Johns Hopkins University with a thesis on the Freedom of Information Act. He teaches journalism as an adjunct instructor at The George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs.

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