Federal Judge Threatens to Haul IRS Commissioner Into Court, but Has Equally Harsh Words for Trial Lawyer

A federal judge not only threatened to hold IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in contempt if the agency didn’t provide documents in the manner ordered by the court, but he issued the same strong warning to his lawyer as well.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan — during a status call for the case involving the IRS singling out tea party and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status during the 2010 and 2012 elections — said that he was “not going to tolerate further noncompliance with the court’s orders.”

“If there is further noncompliance, I will haul into court the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service to show cause why that person should not be personally held in contempt of court,” Sullivan said Wednesday, according to minutes posted by Judicial Watch.

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen testifies before the Senate Judiciary's Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts Subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. Koskinen continued to face questions about alleged IRS targeting of political groups for extra scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen testifies before the Senate Judiciary’s Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts Subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. Koskinen continued to face questions about alleged IRS targeting of political groups for extra scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trial Attorney Geoffrey Klimas (no relation to this reporter) and Sullivan went back and forth regarding the details of why the IRS had not complied. Klimas said the agency planned to “file a motion to reconsider” the order that the IRS “needed to increase the frequency within which it was producing documents” based on it being “burdensome […] to do weekly productions rather than monthly productions.”

From Sullivan’s stance, without the agency filing a motion to reconsider the order, “there’s no reason for not complying.”

“This is ridiculous. This is absurd,” Sullivan said of the situation.

Sullivan went on, saying that while it’s within his legal authority to hold them in contempt, he wasn’t going to do it at this time, noting that going forward he expected full compliance. He added that if they were now to file a motion to reduce production to biweekly, he would deny it.

“I don’t think I’m being unreasonable at all. The plaintiffs are entitled to this information,” Sullivan said. “The public has a right to know what this information is.”

“So, I have nothing else to say other than you have a good day, all right,” the judge continued, directing his next comment specifically to defense attorneys. “But think about these court orders. They’re enforceable. You’re in a very difficult position, but you’re walking out of court with your colleagues. That might not always be the case, okay.”

After this statement, Klimas went on to explain that the additional number of hours and lack of IRS resources available to comply with weekly production of documents as the court order requires poses a hardship on the agency.

Sullivan’s response?

“Well, we all have limited resources. That’s the court order for the time being,” the judge said with finality.

In other news pertaining to the case this week, Sen. Ted Cruz at a Senate hearing told the head of the IRS that his agency has become “the embodiment of what’s wrong with government and what’s wrong with Washington.”

(L-R) Foley & Lardner LLP partner Cleta Mitchell, Common Cause Policy Counsel Stephen Spaulding, Graves Garrett LLC partner Edward Greim, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Lawrence Noble, Waco Tea Party President Toby Marie Walker, Independent Sector President and CEO Diana Aviv, Tea Party Patriots President and co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, Bright Lines Project Chairman Greg Colvin, and American Center for Law and Justice Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow are sworn in before testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee's Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts Subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen earlier testified to the subcommittee about alleged IRS targeting of political groups for extra scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
(L-R) Foley & Lardner LLP partner Cleta Mitchell, Common Cause Policy Counsel Stephen Spaulding, Graves Garrett LLC partner Edward Greim, Campaign Legal Center Senior Counsel Lawrence Noble, Waco Tea Party President Toby Marie Walker, Independent Sector President and CEO Diana Aviv, Tea Party Patriots President and co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, Bright Lines Project Chairman Greg Colvin, and American Center for Law and Justice Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow are sworn in before testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts Subcommittee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen earlier testified to the subcommittee about alleged IRS targeting of political groups for extra scrutiny when applying for tax-exempt status. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“We have seen the creation of an entity that I believe is no longer serving the interests of the American people,” said Cruz, a Texas Republican and presidential candidate who has called for the IRS to be abolished. “We should not have a federal government agency that becomes an intimidator, going after citizens, going after citizen groups, violating their First Amendment rights.”

This week, 21 Republican House members called on Obama to fire IRS Commissioner Koskinen, saying he has obstructed congressional investigations. The IRS disputed the accusation and the Treasury Department issued a statement supporting Koskinen.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Koskinen said the agency has taken steps to make sure that tax-exempt groups are no longer mistreated. Koskinen cited a recent report by the inspector general that said the IRS has taken “significant actions” to improve the processing of applications for tax-exempt status.

“The situation described by the inspector general in his May 2013 report should never have happened, and we are doing everything possible to ensure that the mistakes referenced in the report do not happen again,” Koskinen said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.