Federal Judge Rejects Plea to Block IRS From Destroying Evidence

Thursday, 07 Aug 2014 05:22 PM

By Cathy Burke

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A federal judge has rejected a conservative group's request to block the IRS from destroying emails or potential evidence relating to a contentious tea party targeting scandal — or to name an expert to hunt for missing emails belonging to a former IRS official at the center of the furor.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton was a blow to conservative True the Vote, which sued the IRS in 2013 over its handling of its tax-exempt status application a year before the explosive news of missing emails belonging to ex-official Lois Lerner surfaced.

In asking for an injunction barring the IRS from destroying documents, and for the court to appoint a computer expert as part of an "expedited" discovery process, True the Vote said it didn't trust the IRS to refrain from destroying evidence.

Walton disagreed.

"The issuance of an injunction will not further aid in the recovery of the emails, if such recovery is possible, but will rather only duplicate and potentially interfere with ongoing investigative activities," Walton ruled, McClatchy news service reports.

But the judge sternly warned the IRS it was "now on notice of their obligation to preserve any potentially relevant evidence, and the Court instructs the defendants to comply with that obligation."

True the Vote's lawyer told Politico the Texas-based voter watchdog group could still try for regular, rather than "expedited," discovery at a later point. 

Several other conservative groups are suing the agency over the scandal or the lost Lerner emails the IRS says went missing because of a computer crash. 

Walton ruled there wasn't any reason to believe the IRS deliberately destroyed evidence.

"Without a finding that spoliation [intentional destruction] previously occurred, there is little basis to conclude that the defendants will 'continue' spoliating potential evidence," the judge wrote, reasoning without such evidence there's no reason to believe True the Vote would suffer without an immediate injunction, Politico reported.

Walton also ruled, though it is in the public's interest to find Lerner's emails, it's not in the public's interest to "allow … a third party, as requested by the plaintiff, to inspect IRS computers" because it would "necessarily result in the disclosure of tax returns and return information to that third party," Politico reported.


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