- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2015

A lawyer who worked in the IRS ethics office was disbarred Thursday by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, which concluded she misappropriated a client’s funds from a case she handled in private practice, broke a number of ethics rules and showed “reckless disregard for the truth” in misleading a disbarment panel looking into the matter.

The lawyer, Takisha Brown, reportedly had bragged that she would never be punished because her boss would protect her, but an IRS spokesman said Wednesday that she was no longer an employee at the agency.

“Our records indicate that this employee no longer works for the IRS,” spokesman Matthew Leas said, though he wouldn’t comment further on the case, which became another black eye for the embattled tax agency when The Washington Times first reported on it last year.

Ms. Brown had her licenses suspended and then was disbarred after misusing money she won for a client in an automobile accident case. Under terms of the deal, Ms. Brown was to use part of the settlement to pay the victim’s medical bills, but the lawyer withdrew the money herself and ignored repeated requests from the client’s physicians to make good on the bills, the appeals court said.

Ms. Brown also misled a disbarment hearing panel when it began looking into the matter, the court said.

“The record amply supports the conclusions that Ms. Brown intentionally misappropriated funds and made false statements with reckless disregard for the truth,” the appeals court concluded in a 14-page order finalizing her disbarment.

Efforts to reach Ms. Brown were unsuccessful, though she told The Times last year that she was just starting as a lawyer when she goofed and called it a “one-time mistake.”

She pleaded with the court for leniency. She said she paid back the money and explained that she was facing personal problems including a difficult pregnancy and marital troubles at the time she was being investigated for misconduct.

The court rejected those points and said misleading the disbarment hearing committee was an “aggravating circumstance” that hurt her case.

Ms. Brown’s case drew the attention of Congress. Two senior members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said the lawyer, in addition to facing disbarment, was accused of lying to the IRS inspector general over whether she left an investigative file on a party bus headed to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Ms. Brown, the lawmakers said, denied to investigators that she left the file on the bus but told co-workers she was confident that her boss would support her and she would escape any punishment even if auditors proved she did leave the file on the bus. Her boss was Karen L. Hawkins, the head of the ethics office, formally known as the Office of Professional Responsibility.

Ms. Hawkins, who has run the office overseeing the behavior of tax lawyers since 2009, has insisted in the past that misconduct is inexcusable even if it isn’t related to work.

“I expect nothing but absolute integrity out of both myself and my staff because I just don’t see how you can justify disciplining others for lack of integrity if you aren’t demonstrating integrity-plus on your own behalf,” she said in a hearing during a union grievance last year.

Reached by The Times on Wednesday, Ms. Hawkins declined to comment on the matter.

In a speech this week, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen insisted his agency has turned the corner on problems with employee behavior in recent years.

He said agency officials have taken steps to prevent the re-hiring of former employees who refused to pay their own taxes and that current staffers in arrears will not receive bonuses. But he also said it’s impossible to fully police a workforce as big as the one he oversees.

“I can’t guarantee that we don’t have any problems in the future — no one could — since we still have 87,000 employees who deal with 150 million individual taxpayers and administer the world’s most complicated tax code. But I can assure you that our commitment is to find problems quickly, to fix them promptly and be transparent in the process,” Mr. Koskinen said.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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