Attacking the Taxman

James Farmer and Cliff Williams do their best to irk the IRS

A set of talking points the IRS distributes about tax protesters connects the legal challenges to groups that appear at gun shows and other gathering places of the far right wing and offer seminars on how to beat the tax system.

"The tax burden for honest taxpayers grows because of those who choose not to participate in the system," the IRS handout says. "It is our goal to stop the flow of false information being circulated by these groups about the legality of the tax system in the United States."

The agency has lawyers who specialize in batting down the arguments when the cases hit the courtroom, but as Yost says, "I'm sure there are better ways the agency could be spending its money."

In Farmer's case, one of those specialized lawyers had to fly in from Dallas for a hearing. That fact tickles Farmer's colleague, Cliff William. "I consider that a compliment," he says.

If anyone epitomizes the IRS nightmare more than Farmer, it's William. A 45-year-old decorated Vietnam War vet who served with the 101st Airborne, William works out of Farmer's nondescript suite of offices off the Southwest Freeway.

Walk into William's office and you'll hear him on the phone, negotiating with an insurance adjuster who's trying to settle the case of an unlicensed driver who rammed into a client of William's while driving a car registered to, amazingly enough, the People's Republic of China.

The adjuster wants to settle for $5,000. William's client, who is claiming the kind of nebulous soft-tissue injury that sets tort reformers' teeth on edge, insists on something nearer $25,000 or he'll take the case to trial.

"If you want to go to trial, that's fine, but I can just see getting in front of 12 Texans and saying, 'This is the People's Republic of China, and we know they think it's all right to run over college students in Tiananmen Square," he purrs into the phone as he paces the office. "But do we think it's all right for them to come to Texas to run over college kids? You want to take that to 12 Texans? Bring it on, man."

The bluster is no different than that heard in any personal-injury lawyer's office. Except for one thing: William is not a lawyer.

"The state bar is unconstitutional, and I will not join that organization," he says. "A free citizen has a lawful, inalienable right to their choice of counsel, so I do not need to be a member of the state bar."

State laws require those who practice law to have a "license," he says; yet any lawyer asked to produce such a license can only show a "membership card" from the state bar. And if the bar tries to come after him for unauthorized practice of law, he says, he'll simply point out the massive conflict of interest: Any judge assigned to the case would be a member of the bar.

"A membership card is not a license. A license allows you to do something which would otherwise be illegal," William says.

Such arguments don't get far with the bar, of course. When a colleague of William's made the same claims to the state Supreme Court last year, he received an acerbic reply from the court's executive assistant: "The rigmarole your letter describes is one of the best explanations I have ever seen for the strict control of unauthorized practice of law and requiring judges to be lawyers," William Willis wrote on behalf of the court. "Anyone who would make such a dog's breakfast of discovering what a license to practice law is and how they are issued would surely do very serious damage to the rights of someone they undertook to represent."

Neither William -- nor, for that matter, Farmer, who has a law degree from South Texas College of Law -- is fazed. William is about to file a lengthy motion with U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas outlining, in great detail and with much discussion of the Founding Fathers, why he should be allowed to represent Farmer in his $50million civil suit against the IRS.

It's probably not surprising that William's filing will be accompanied by a motion asking that Atlas recuse herself for showing bias. In an initial hearing on the case, Atlas expressed beliefs such as that everyone has to pay taxes.

If a transcript of the May 12 hearing is any indication, Atlas may be glad to get out of the case:

Atlas: Can I just ask you a point on that? The written law says when taxes are owed, they must be paid on April 15th of the year after the close of the tax year.

Farmer: Judge, who do those apply to?
Atlas: You, me, him.
Farmer: The definitions in the act say they apply to people who live in Washington, D.C., or the other territories, and federal employees. That is what the act itself says.

Atlas: What are you talking about?
Farmer: I am talking about Title26.
Atlas: I see you just believe you don't have to pay taxes.

Farmer: I am saying these things don't apply to me, Your Honor, and to a lot of other citizens.

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