One Computer in Tax Court Record Room

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Prior to the pandemic I stopped by the Tax Court record room a few times a year to research cases.  As noted in prior blog posts, here, here (with links to additional posts on the subject) and here, the public records created in Tax Court cases are available to the public only by traveling to Washington, DC or by calling the Tax Court record section and ordering the documents.  The exception to this rule is access to Court orders and decisions which are available for free through the Court’s electronic docket.

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Prior to the pandemic, if you were able to visit the record section of the Tax Court located on the ground floor of the court building, in a small public room a table existed with two computer terminals that could access all of the unsealed documents in Tax Court cases.  As discussed in one of the blog posts linked above, for long stretches of time during the pandemic, access to this room was unavailable because the Tax Court was closed to the public leaving phone requests as the only way to access the public records in Tax Court cases.  Post pandemic the room still exists, but it now contains only one computer instead of two.

I wonder why the Tax Court decided to further limit access to its documents by removing one of the two computers available in the records room.  In my recent visit, I was the only person in the room during the two hours I spent looking at the case files of recently dismissed deficiency cases.  No one else sought to use the computer which was good from my perspective since I would not have wanted to make someone sit for up to two hours to access the computer while I monopolized it, but I also would not have wanted to relinquish my limited time with this computer to someone else.

Looking at the log book the court maintains for the computer, I noticed that basically everyone signing in on the same page with me was a reporter in the tax press.  In the past when I have visited the computers in the record room, I have sometimes used one at the same time as someone else used the other and sometimes used them alone.  I have not done a study of how much those computers are used but I know that when I go there I am usually on a tight schedule and would not like to wait for someone else to finish their research.

I write this post for two reasons.  First, I continue to hope that the Tax Court will open up electronic access to the public records in its cases.  For the reasons discussed in the blog posts linked above, I think it is possible to make the information truly public while protecting the information of individual taxpayers that needs to be kept private.  I continue to wonder what reason exists for not making the unsealed documents in entity cases completely available since privacy of individual identity information cannot possibly be the basis for keeping these records so difficult to access.

Second, I write to alert others that even going to the Tax Court to look at documents is now more difficult than prior to the pandemic.  If someone reaches the sole computer before you do, you must wait an unlimited amount of time to access that computer. 

I reread the Tax Court’s Congressional Budget Justification for Fiscal Year 2023 to see if it contained any reason for the reduction in the number of computers available to access court records.  It did not.  It does provide the following statement lauding increased access to the Court’s docket as a result of DAWSON.  I can only say I do not know what the Court defines as increased access since the access to documents under the DAWSON system seems identical to the system that existed prior to DAWSON.  Here is the Court’s statement:

The Court marked the first year of DAWSON (Docket Access Within a Secure Online Network),13 which was launched on December 28, 2020. DAWSON is an open-source, cloud-based application that is mobile-friendly. The system’s implementation included a new feature to electronically file a petition to start a new case, which has proved particularly beneficial during the pandemic.
During the first year in operation, over 750 features were added and over 450 bugs were addressed. The system now permits the public to search and view Court orders and opinions without a fee. [It did so prior to the existence of DAWSON as well.] The Court recognizes the importance of access to case records and has prioritized the programming issues related to sealed documents and sealed cases. As functionality is added the Court will continue to realize greater efficiencies (e.g., related to consolidated cases, minute orders, and calendars). Overall, DAWSON continues to make the Court more accessible for taxpayers, practitioners, and the public. (emphasis added)

This annual report was issued on February 28, 2022.  The report focused on activity at the Court during 2021.  I anticipate a new report will be issued at the end of this month.  Perhaps it will provide additional guidance regarding access to the Court’s records remotely or in the building.


  1. Kenneth H. Ryesky says

    Two points to note:

    1. One of my non-tax passions is family history and genealogy. That there are accessibility issues in genealogyland is obvious, and the issues themselves are diverse.

    One matter that had manifested itself over the years has been that the management of certain cemeteries, who were insolent the people who were coming in to ask about particular gravesites, were eventually convinced by the entrepreneurially-minded genealogy players to (1) adopt computerized databases instead of having to rummage through your 3 x 5 card files; (2) if you are already computerized, set up a website and post your data on the website so that your office employees do not get distracted so often by the annoying researchers; or (3) if you do not wish to be bothered with website maintenance, then supply your lists to various genealogical societies, who would be pleased to facilitate access.

    2. To the chagrin of concerns such as LEXIS or West, many organizations are availing court decisions online for free.

    • All unsealed court records should be free online with the utmost state-of-the-art secure, hack-free federal and state websites, and incredible search engines managed by top paid web managers. Paid for by the federal and state governments.

  2. Your use of the word “room” for this facility inspired me to do some research on the origin of the term “cubbyhole,” which more accurately describes this space (if you don’t prefer “closet”). Here is one theory: “In castles, a hole was built into the family chamber wall, just large enough to hold a baby in its cubby (basket). Hence the term cubbyhole.”

    When I visited Tax Court in 2015, the second machine was in use, and as I recall, I sat shoulder-to-shoulder with the other researcher. So my theory is that even with masks, Covid is a concern. A solution might be to allow or require reservations for using the remaining terminal. (Technically, it’s not a computer, right?)

  3. Mark A Weiner says

    I fully agree with Mr. Fogg. All filed documents that are not sealed should be available electronically, particularly in entity cases and even more particularly in tax exempt organization declaratory judgment cases. Any “privacy “ can be protected. But my gosh, the Tax Court is a public judicial function.

  4. John F. Lenderman says

    I agree that there should be more than one computer for records access. I have been e-filing for years as the bankruptcy courts largely implemented that program and it works very well both for that court and now district courts. I tried to e-file a petition using DAWSON over a three day period and failed miserably. Had to use “nail mail” and do it the old fashion way.

  5. John Genova says

    Keith, nice post as always and very informative.

    Forget a trip to the Tax Court, I want to see the U.S. Tax Court on PACER like every other court. I spend time studying U.S. Court of Federal Claims cases on PACER and I would have to think it helps the court receive better Complaints and filings. The Tax Court would also receive better Petitions and filings if its cases and documents were on PACER.

    By the way, how do you get your documents when you go to the Tax Court? Is there a printer there or can you email the documents to yourself? Is there a fee to print or access documents when you are physically at the court? In another post you mentioned having to pay if you CALL the records section but what about if you are physically there.

    • I agree that it would be nice to have the Tax Court accessible similar to PACER. The Court expresses privacy concerns about the information in its cases. You can find the link to my article addressing those concerns in the post.

      If you travel to the Tax Court you can see the case information on the computer in the record room but if you want a copy of any document, you have to order it from the court. I have ordered documents in the past by going to the window in that room and obtaining an order form from one of the persons working in the record room. I cannot remember if I paid at that moment or later. It’s been several years since I did it that way. Usually, when I make a trip to the record room it is to look at a large number of cases in order to winnow down the ones in which I have interest. I will make notes and then discuss the information with colleagues to determine what to order. There is no way to print from the computers. The same fees apply if you order over the phone or in person which is $.50 per page capped at $3.00 per document. Several years ago I used a phone app to scan documents. I wrote about that visit in a PT post entitled something like Man from Uncle. After that visit and that post I was told the next time I visited that doing that was not allowed. There is a PT post about that visit also. Following the second visit a sign was posted just above the computers telling you not to take pictures.

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