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U.S. Tax Court Lags Behind on Online Access

Most Americans are familiar with the U.S. Supreme Court, in at least a general way. That is not the case, however, with the U.S. Tax Court.

If you haven't been involved in tax litigation, you may scarcely be aware of the Tax Court. But if you do find yourself in a dispute with the IRS, you will quickly become aware of the court's key role. You may also become concerned about the difficulty of gaining access to it.

The court's cases range from disputes about the applicability of the "innocent spouse" rule to multi-million dollar cases affecting huge corporations. About three fourths of the cases involve individual taxpayers.

Many taxpayer advocates believe that the Tax Court should strive to make as much of its work as possible accessible online. After all, with so much at stake, the administration of justice must be seen to be as fair and transparent as possible.

The Tax Court does make its orders and opinions available electronically. But it does not make documents that were filed as part of the proceedings similarly available. To see those documents, the process slows virtually to a halt.

There are currently only two options, neither of them efficient. The first is travelling to the court's offices in Washington, off of I-395. The other is to request the documents in writing.

The drawbacks to either of these approaches are obvious. Moreover, such documents are available online for other federal courts through a service called PACER run by the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Source: "Powerful but obscure Tax Court lags on access," Kim Dixon, Reuters, 4-25-12

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