Copyright 2016 by Gene Fletcher
Honorable Mention--2016 General Nonfiction
was a retired federal judge who had been called out of retirement to
serve on a three judge panel that was the federal court of appeals
for our area. He had retired about 20 years ago so my guess was that
he was about 80 to 85 years old. He looked like an actor direct from
central casting. He had a healthy appearance and he had a fondness
for humor. The kind of humor that appears in the daily lives that
each of us live, but it is humor that is often unrecognized as we
shuffle along in our somewhat boring routines.
was working for the Internal Revenue Service when I first encountered
the Judge. I was an Internal Revenue Agent assigned to the Review
Staff of the Audit Division for the State of Florida. My primary
duty was to review the files and reports submitted by other Agents
after the case had been closed. In theory, it was a method for
quality control for the agents in the field. In addition to review
of files, it was my responsibility to resolve problems that needed
“special attention”. These tended to involve things that
the Division Chief identified as sensitive because the IRS had
dropped the ball in some way. For example, an agent was fired
because he was incompetent and all of his cases were transferred to
me for expeditious handling. Armed with the personal authority of
the Chief of the Audit Division in my hand, I could by-pass all the
routine bottlenecks and go directly to the head of every line. It
was all legal but much quicker than normal. In theory, this urgent
action could take a problem that would normally take six weeks to
resolve and complete its resolution in two days.
theory floating around the inner circle of the review staff, was that
when you were promoted to a GS12 position, you could expect to be
assigned a cubical with a window. A window was not only a status
symbol it was a welcomed change from the windowless cubical that were
standard in most federal office buildings. As I looked at my window,
not out my window, I day dreamed about windows.
window had been drawn on a large piece of paper. The drawing was a
perfect imitation of a real window. The real window that I did not
receive upon reaching a GS12 position. The drawing came with a note
explaining that there were no real window available at this time. The
note also stated that my window included a provision to grant me all
of the rights and privileges that the real window people enjoy. This
was, at the very least, evidence that some employees of the I.R.S.
had a sense of humor.
was daydreaming and looking at my window when I received a call from
the Office of Chief of the Division. Since he was three pay grades
above me, I was surprised that he asked for me. He said that I would
soon get a call from the office of District Director with a very
sensitive matter that needed immediate attention. The Chief
recommended me to the District Director as a person who could resolve
this time, I knew it going to be an interesting day. GS-12 agents
rarely got an opportunity to see the Directors office and almost
never had a one on one meeting with him. This would be an
opportunity to impress the Director. Perhaps he would remember my
name the next time he saw me.
put on my suit coat, adjusted my tie, combed my hair and buffed the
dust off my shoes. I was ready to meet with the Director.
I arrived at
the Directors office, I was immediately escorted into his office
where I found him on the phone. He waived in the direction of a
chair and my escort said “please have a seat.” I had
seen the Director many times, usually at meetings or functions
attended by large groups of people. I had been told about his
temper, his tendency to curse and a few other things, all negative,
about him. Now I would have a chance to see for myself.
Director finished the call, turned to me and got right to the point. He
said his Audit Davison Chief suggested me as a man who could
resolve this matter diplomatically and as quickly as possible. With
that said, he handed me a letter addressed to the District Director,
Internal Revenue Service. I noticed the impressive letterhead of a
federal judge and turned my attention to the contents of the letter.
the Judge was in a situation that was self-imposed.
his letter to the District Director, he stated that he had received a
letter from the Collection Division of the I.R.S. telling him that if
his income tax for 1969 was not paid within 10 days, his bank
accounts could be seized and other bad things could happen to him. The
Judge said that he had sent all of the needed information into
the I.R.S. but he had no response except a series of form letters
that did not seem to apply to his situation. He closed with a
request for assistance in resolving this matter.
Director gave me a copy of the letter and told me to resolve this as
quickly as possible. The last thing we needed was an irate federal
judge on our hands.
called the judge’s office and scheduled an appointment to meet
with him on the following day. When I arrived at his office in the
old Post Office Building, I was greeted by a very efficient, business
like woman who escorted me to the Judge’s Office. I was
impressed by the size of the office. In my limited experience, it
was by far the largest federal office I had ever seen. His office
was much like a large Living Room complete with a sofa, coffee table
and two overstuffed chairs The Judges desk and work area were
defined by an elegant carpet that appeared to be from the middle
east. The conversation area was also defined by a huge carpet.
Judge was sitting behind his desk. As I approached, he rose from his
chair and came over to shake my hand. He invited me to have a seat. I
chose a large overstuffed chair and settled in for a possible
surprise. In situations like this, I was prepared for Just about
soon found out that the Judge was a gentleman.
the usual introductions and small talk, the Judge began to explain
his problem to me.. He had failed to report some income in 1969 due
to a form 1099 that arrived late. When he discovered the error, he
reported the income on his return for 1970. The ever vigilant I.R.S.
found that the income was not reported in 1969 so the I.R.S.
generated a bill to the Judge for a small amount of tax in 1969. He
attempted to explain this in a lengthy letter complete with attached
form 1099 (Dividends) and 1040 (Federal Tax Return) for each year as
evidence that he owed tax in one year but was due a refund in the
his letters, the Judge offered what seemed to him, two workable
Judge proposed that the I.R.S. apply the refund in 1969 as part
payment on the amount the Judge owed for 1970 and the Judge would pay
the balance that was due on his 1970 return. As a second
alternative, the Judge said that he would simply wait until the
“happy day” when he received his refund and he would pay
the amount due for 1970.
Judge discovered that sending letters filled with a judicial jargon
in response to form letters prepared by bureaucrats often caused more
harm than good.
the I.R.S. sent him a form letter stating that his bank accounts and
other assets might be subject to seizure if he did not pay the amount
due in 10 days. This letter caused the Judge to contact the Distract
Director for assistance.
secured all of the information that I needed to resolve the amounts
in question and prepared to fold my files and get the judge the
relief that he deserved. At some point, while the Iron Maiden made
copies of some of the Judges files, I saw a magazine devoted to stamp
collecting on his coffee table. When I asked about his interest in
stamps, he said he was interested primarily in U.S. stamps. More
specifically, he was interested in U.S. Stamps that were related to
the Space Program. In a very few minutes, I found that he was not
your amateur collector. He was a fountain of information on stamps,
first day covers and other philatelic material. We spent the better
part of an hour talking about stamps, history and collecting in
returned to my office and armed with the Directors authority,
proceeded to “resolve” the matter. In other words, I cut
the red tape and moved the judge to the front of each line. Within
48 hours, I had completed my task. I called the judge and scheduled
an appointment on the following day
I saw the judge the next day, I explained that we had put an
administrative hold on the collection of the money he owed and we had
put an “expedite” processing order on his refund. He
should receive a refund in seven to ten days. He could then use the
refund money to pay the bill that was on administrative hold. That
would complete the entire transaction. If the judge approved, I
would start the process immediately. The judge said he approved and
I was ready to depart when the judge ask me to stay for a moment. He
had some thing for me.
turned to a small two drawer file cabinet behind his desk and
retrieved a large manila envelope. He handed the envelope to me and
said “I would like you to have these”. When I opened the
envelope, I found a complete set of autographed first day covers for
all of the original 7 mercury astronauts. Each first day cover had a
letter from NASA stating that the First Day Cover had been in the
space capsule on the mission with the astronaut. These were
priceless. This was a one of a kind find. The type that every stamp
collector dreams about. I had no idea of their value but the
autographs alone would bring a handsome sum. I had purchased some
space related stamps so I knew demand for the stamps was strong. I
wondered what the value really was. Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John
Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton
were American heroes. For a brief moment, I considered taking the
manila envelope and its contents and risking my job in the process.
After looking them over, I thanked the judge and gave them back to
him and said “Your Honor, you know that I cannot accept these.” The
judge replied that he had offered them only after our business
was completed therefore the philatelic material could have no bearing
on my handling of his case. My reply was the same. “No
disrespect, your honor, I really cannot accept something that is
clearly very valuable”.
judge then proceeded to tell me the following story. A story that
should be a lesson to all bureaucrats.
the days of the Chinese Exclusion when the law prevented any Chinese
from legally immigrating to the United States, a young Chinese woman
who was a U.S. citizen made a trip home to China to visit her
relatives. She was pregnant when she left the U.S. and she gave
birth while she was in China. When she returned to the U.S., the
immigration officials would not allow both mother and child to be
admitted to the United States. The immigration officials took the
position that there was paperwork to allow the mother to return to
the United States but not the infant.
great controversy arose and ultimately the immigration officials sent
a lengthily cable to Washington describing the circumstances of the
case and asking advice on how to proceed. The reply that was sent by
telegraph should be given to all branches of the government. It was:
be a damn fool!
reply was the same. “I am truly sorry but I cannot accept
something that is so valuable.”
judge said, “Well, Fletcher, I will offer an alternative. If
you continue to work for the IRS, ultimately a case of yours will
come before the Court of Appeals and you will be wrong. In that
case, I will let the other judges write the opinion upholding your
opponent and I will write a complementary dissent”.
that note, the judge and I parted company. I never saw him again but
I still think of him saying, with a slight grin,
be a damn fool.”
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Story List and Biography
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