The other day the call came up for patriots to back up one of our own in the a hearing in Greenville, SC. Patriot "B" was being rudely harassed by the Department of Revenue (DOR) -- South Carolina's equivalent of the IRS -- for "income tax" payments they had failed to justify. They wanted to see him and on the big day found he had three friends on his side: Patriot "M," Dr. Clarkson, and yours truly. Here's how it happened, the best I can remember it.
The first and only time I'd been to the DOR's Orwellian-looking headquarters I was admittedly stunned with the Orwellian behavior of the tax mavens. They were cold and hard in barring witnesses from the meeting and only took about thirty seconds to get the police on the scene. (You must understand that our friend the "American Gandhi", Gene Chapman, was present!) The Supervisor, David Mays, acted like he was auditioning for a Nazi role in a World War II picture. This time he was present again, as was the admittedly lovely and mellow agent on the case, Susie, plus a touchy SLED agent named Lollis. But things went quite differently this time.
We walked through the door and a secretary asked us to have a seat. We did so -- just walked right into the meeting room. Presently another functionary stuck her head in the door and said "we need you to wait in the waiting area out front." One of us quickly and politely said "We prefer to wait in here, thanks" -- and the lady walked on.
Audacity, audacity audacity, always audacity -- this was the motto of General George Patton. When will we learn that it really brings results? The three DORites came on in after awhile and casually got the meeting rolling. They asked us what each of Patriot B's seconds were doing there. I truthfully said I was there to stand in for the wife of Patriot B.
Agent Lollis' first order of business was to attempt to order Dr. Clarkson off the scene. Our hero took charge and shouted right back that he had a right to stay and was going to. "I'm a citizen -- you're a public servant. I'm your boss, not the other way around," he thundered, leaving the uniformed one looking like somebody had licked the red off his candy.
The agents had one wish, and that was (officially) further documentation as to why "B" didn't owe them "taxes" on his earnings for 1991. They had some information on how much money he had made and who had paid it, but the sketchiness of this became "B"'s defense -- successfully, in my view.
The dialog basically seesawed between the agents' insistence that "B" either pay or refute their claims, and his insistence that they substantiate the latter. In order to cooperate, "B" said, he first needed to see copies of the statements his alleged employers had provided the DOR. They maintained that this was all accounted for by a bunch of numbers on the bottom of some form they had issued to "B". When it became apparent DOR wasn't going to come across, "B" informed them that he wouldn't owe any money anyway because of major deductions he had on account of family and business expenses. Almost desperate to win it, they allowed to give examples, which he did.
They said up front -- inconsiderately and wrongfully, in my view -- that there wouldn't be deductions for any children without having their "Social Security" numbers. Can you imagine? What do they think our precious children are, anyway -- cattle ? Yet again cleaving to the first rule of any kind of legal defense -- stick to the main point -- "B" again reminded them that he felt entitled to the further documentation he'd asked for before offering any himself.
This happened so many times in the course of the meeting, in fact, that I had to chime in and ask the agents whether they thought they weren't operating by egregious double standards, constantly demanding that others give more than they do themselves. They had no answer -- how could they? Any rules and regulations that may exist speciously allowing them to walk all over people are void ab initio.
Through all of this, Dr. Clarkson was the master strategist and parliamentarian that chaotic messes like "income tax" conferences sorely need. They don't want him practicing law, per se, but it was he who obviously and by far had the superior knowledge of law and DOR policy . I don't even know whether he was bluffing some of the time -- but what he said worked! It was so patently fair and even-handed the agents probably felt at a loss to challenge it. He radiated confidence and authority -- slouching there merrily in his most casual throw-on clothes!
The discussion lurched on for what must have been about 90 minutes. Finally one side -- unfortunately ours -- made a positive statement that offered the other an escape hatch. "B" said he wasn't going to give them any info. Director Mays snapped that the meeting was therefore over, but I seriously doubt he's going to find it any easier to rein in "B" and his nonexistent wealth as a result.
The agents seemed variously baffled and uptight in the presence of informed citizens who don't act like doormats. Lollis, supposedly the real bruiser in the group, shrank back behind the other two when I aimed my camera at them. It was reminiscent of the time in tax court in Columbia when prosecuting/persecuting lawyer J. Craig Young cried to the judge that the camera should be banned because "our pictures are going to appear on Clarkson's website tonight!" After the conference Lollis told us to clear out, and when we weren't quite fast enough for him he barked that we'd have to hurry or be arrested for trespassing.