Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Another Set Back for the Remaining Daugerdas Defendants - Economic Substance is Sufficiently Malleable to Establish a Line a Citizen Could Know (12/29/10)

Judge Pauley, USDC SDNY, served up a loss for the Daugerdas defendants just before Christmas. The opinion in United States v. Daugerdas, 759 F. Supp. 2d 461 (SD NY 2010) is here. The defendants made the now standard argument in complex tax shelters, particularly those based on extrapolations of Helmer, that, given Helmer, the law was not sufficiently clear to establish a legal duty that the defendants could know. I have previously blogged on facets of this issue before. See here.

As occurs frequently, Judge Pauley conflates two distinct -- albeit related -- concepts. The threshold issue is whether the duty was knowable -- a legal inquiry that is separate from what the defendants might have known or intended. James and its progeny establish that the duty must be sufficiently clear that a citizen (not necessarily the actual defendant in the dock) could know the duty. Only if that question is answered in the affirmative is the Cheek issue reached -- did the defendant know the knowable legal duty? That is an issue for the jury to determine after trial so long as the prosecutors have enough evidence to survive a motion for acquittal.

Without citing James or its progeny, Judge Pauley does address the James threshold issue. Bottom line, he holds that the economic interest concept as a bar to claimed benefits and as interpreted by the courts (it is a judicial doctrine, after all) was sufficiently certain to give the hypothetical citizen a line that could be crossed (aka was knowable), leaving the issue for trial of whether these particular defendants knew the line they allegedly crossed. Could have known is not sufficient for a criminal conviction. The Government will have to prove that the did know. But that is another chapter.

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