Georgia Debuts New Tax Court

Created last year by the Legislature, the specialized court is intended to resolve tax disputes in a more efficient and predictable manner.
by | December 18, 2012

Chuck Beaudrot jokes about what will happen when he starts his new job: suddenly everyone will start being nice to him, and people will rise to their feet when he enters a room.

At least, that's what his friends have told the newly appointed judge of the Georgia Tax Tribunal, which convenes for the first time Jan. 2.

Created last year by the Legislature, the specialized court is intended to resolve tax disputes in a more efficient and predictable manner.

"When I was first asked if I was interested in this, it sounded like it would be a blast, that it'd be cool," Beaudrot said. "It's something of importance I can do for the state. It's an opportunity to do something that's very interesting and intellectually challenging."

In November, Gov. Nathan Deal picked Beaudrot, a widely respected tax attorney, to head the new court.

The court will consider complex and weighty tax disputes between large businesses and the state. It will also have a small claims division where individual taxpayers can bring their accountants into court to assist them with appeals involving any state tax issue.

Deal believes the new court provides taxpayers the opportunity to bring their cases before a judge with an expertise on tax law, Brian Robinson, the governor's spokesman, said. "We think this can also allow the state to adjudicate these cases more quickly, which benefits all parties."

Beaudrot, 61, will leave the Atlanta law firm Morris, Manning & Martin, where he has been a partner specializing in tax litigation for more than three decades. During his spare time, Beaudrot, whose mother was a church organist and school music teacher, composes choral music. Since 1977, he has sung in the Cathedral Choir at The Cathedral of St. Philip.

Chuck Hodges, a tax attorney from the firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, said if a poll had been taken of the state's tax lawyers for the best candidate to serve as Georgia's first tax court judge, Beaudrot would have won hands down.

"You're not going to be able to pull the wool over his eyes like you might have been able to do to judges who were not familiar with tax law," Hodges said. "You need someone with an informed independence -- a judge who understands the statute and knows how it works."

Tax disputes often take months, even years, to resolve and can run up costly attorneys' fees.

Now, aggrieved parties can take their tax appeals directly to the new court.

"Cases will be put on trial calendars, which means both sides -- the taxpayer and the Department of Revenue -- are going to have to talk to one another," Hodges said. "I believe this could result in more cases being settled and resolved."

Beaudrot will act as judge and jury if a case goes to trial. His written rulings should build precedent for future tax litigants. His decisions also could prompt the Legislature to enact tax code changes if, for example, Beaudrot upholds an unintended loophole, Hodges said.

As it now stands, taxpayers who go to court to challenge their assessments face great uncertainty as to how long it will take to get a final resolution.

Some taxpayers choose to file their cases in local Superior Courts. But tax disputes rarely get top priority before these judges, who oversee serious felony cases, which bring speedy trial demands, and contentious divorce and child custody proceedings.

Parties also can bring challenges before a state administrative law judge. But this judge's decision can be either accepted or reversed by the state revenue commissioner. An unsatisfied party can then take the dispute to a Superior Court judge, who must consider the tax dispute anew.

Beginning in January, taxpayers can no longer bring their challenges before an administrative law judge. Beaudrot will handle those cases in the new tribunal and his decisions can only be reversed on appeal.

Its creation was recommended two years ago by a special tax reform council created by the Legislature. It was enacted this past legislative session in House Bill 100, which sets up the new court as a 10-year-long pilot project. Beaudrot's initial appointment, for four years, can be renewed.

The new court could help attract businesses thinking about moving to Georgia, said Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the bill's sponsor.

Peake, who runs a small restaurant business, said challenging the Department of Revenue in a tax dispute often isn't worth the time or the effort.

"We've needed a uniform and impartial venue and a judge with expertise in tax law," Peake said. "We need a tax court where business owners have a legitimate chance to bring a tax case, get it resolved quickly and not have it be a huge financial burden."

Beaudrot said he will try to model Georgia's new tax tribunal after the U.S. Tax Court, which handles disputes between taxpayers and the IRS.

"I want this court to be efficient, thorough and prompt," he said. "In this day and age, justice delayed is justice denied."

(c)2012 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.)

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