Emergency Etiquette Help Needed

I am a past chair of the Section of Taxation of the Maryland State Bar Association. Tonight, May 22, the Section will be holding its annual dinner. The keynote speaker is the current I.R.S. Commissioner, Charles P. Rettig. I will be in attendance.

An article appeared in today’s Washington Post, revealing that there was a memo (perhaps simply a draft), that concluded that the Secretary of the Treasury does not have the authority to deny a request for taxpayer returns from the House Ways and Means Committee. Here’s a copy of the memo. I don’t have quick access to the relevant documents right now, but I’m am fairly certain that the obligation to enforce the tax code has been delegated to the IRS Commissioner and that this delegation order has (i) not been revoked and (ii) cannot be revoked except upon thirty days’ notice, which notice has not been made. So, Mr. Rettig would seem to be under a specific legal obligation to honor the Ways and Means Committee’s request.

Now, I try to remain civil and non-confrontational in face-to-face interactions. (My internet interactions are, um, somewhat different.) This leaves me in a bit of a quandary that I am hoping members of the RBC can help me resolve. Should I:

  • Question Mr. Rettig about the issue in a semi-confrontational matter (“Isn’t it true, Mr. Commissioner that . . . .”)
  • When Mr. Rettig is called to the rostrum, ostentatiously turn my back to him.
  • When Mr. Rettig is called to the rostrum, ostentatiously leave the room.
  • When Mr. Rettig is called to the rostrum, quietly and unobtrusively leave the room.
  • Simply maintain the ordinary sort of courtesies expected in such social and professional situations (ala Nancy Pelosi in her recent meeting with Attorney General Barr), remaining in the room and politely applauding Mr. Rettig after he finishes his remarks.
  • Any other suggestion?

I note that while I have never meet Mr. Rettig, I know a good number of my colleagues who have. They are unanimous in their appraisal of him that he is an intelligent, decent, and honorable man.

11 thoughts on “Emergency Etiquette Help Needed”

  1. What would you do if you were MC of an event where OJ Simpson were a keynote speaker, the day after he’d been judge “not guilty”? Certainly whatever you’d do on that day, would be too … moderate/civil, for this guy, no?

    Concretely, it seems to me that the minimum would be to ostentatiously exit, along with as many other attendees as you could possibly wrangle to join you.

    1. I mean, I have no Trumpist friends, having cut off a man whom I used to describe as “Johnson to my Boswell, Holmes to my Watson”, and a few others. And at this point, if I were in a social setting where I were required to interact with GrOPers, I’d exit, with an explanation that I did not have social relations with traitors.

  2. Let me see if I got this right. Mr. Rettig had his appointment secretary call the head of your organization and state that Mr. Rettig wanted very much to address your group at its annual dinner meeting. Furthermore, he said, in view of Mr. Rettig’s high position, he felt the only appropriate action would be that your organization designate him as the keynote speaker of the evening. When your President demurred, stating that you had already arranged for a different keynote speaker, Mr. Rettig’s secretary said “You know, Mr. Rettig is a very powerful individual. Especially in view of your membership’s interests, it would behoove you to change your plans to accommodate him.”

    Waitaminit! What’s that? You say that’s not how it happened? You say your group *invited* Mr. Rettig.

    And now you are trying to figure out how to show him up? And the previous commenter thinks you were being too soft?

    Are you sure you’re an organization of tax accountants? Sounds to me like the annual reunion dinner of Seal Team Two.

  3. Acts of protest by a single individual (turning one’s back, walking out) within a formal group setting like this run the risk of putting the focus on the protester (“why did he think it was a good idea to. . . ?”) rather than on the subject of the protest. It might be worth contacting a few colleagues to learn what, if anything, they plan to do.

    Otherwise, I’m for maintaining decorum: it leaves open the possibility that you may have the opportunity at a later time to more persuasively express your concerns to Mr. Rettig about the side of history he’s putting himself on.

    That said, I don’t see a need to applaud after his speech.

  4. I recommend treating other people with dignity and respect regardless of their perceived beliefs or your opinions.

    How we treat others speaks to our character, not the character of the subject of our actions.

    I suggest sending your regrets if you can’t manage to be civil when in the same room with Mr. Rettig. I’m sure you can find better ways to entertain yourself than the annual taxation dinner.

    There is a time and place for protest. This gathering of professionals, of which you hold a leadership position, does not seem to be either.

    1. “regardless of their perceived beliefs or your opinions.”

      It’s not his beliefs that are at issue here; it’s the man’s actions. He’s breaking the law in a most flagrant manner, right? And in the process, breaking our Republic. Sure, law-abiding citizens ought to leave the process of criminal sanction to the forces of law and order, but there’s no reason why we must be civil to a law-breaker.

      Again, I think the relevant comparison is with OJ Simpson. Anything that you would find offensive and opprobrious to support, in interaction with Simpson, I think you should find even moreso with anyone who is actively destroying our Republic.

  5. Is there any possibility of going with a modified version of door #1? Why be semi-confrontational? Why not just ask whether he believes it is his legal responsibility to comply with the House Committee’s demand/request; if not, what is the basis, and if so, why he has not (yet) complied? This might even be newsworthy and give you (another?) 15 minutes of fame.

  6. So I take it that this invitation was extended before Mr. Rettig decided to commit what appears to be (according to credible reporting) a federal crime that qualifies him for up to 5 years in prison? If it’s impossible to withdraw the invitation (for safety reasons, of course) and the speech format forbids questions, then I’d suggest organizing as many no-shows as possible (with request for refunds on the grounds that the speaker is currently anti-qualified to address a group of lawyers).

    If questions are allowed, it would be nice to find out which other parts of the law Mr. Rettig considers to be optional depending on the status of one’s client.

  7. If in fact you have decent opportunity to question him, it should not be difficult to be civil but also also forcefully challenging. You briefly state the facts, and state something like, “I and a great many other people who are knowledgeable about these matters believe that your position is wrong and not defensible. If you believe we are mistaken, can you explain clearly why?”

    1. I behaved myself.

      I want to do a follow-up post not on Commissioner Rettig’s presentation, but on the acceptance speech given by Maryland Deputy Comptroller Sharonne Bonardi. She received an award from the Section. I have asked her if I could obtain a copy of her written remarks and if she would consent to my posting them here. If she can provide me with those remarks and consents, I will post them here.

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