Information on John A. ("Jack") Townsend

Jack Townsend represents clients in the area of tax law commonly referred to as tax controversy. Tax controversies include audits, appeals, collections, criminal tax matters (including grand jury matters), and civil and criminal litigation. Jack's detailed resume is here and list of representative matters handled is here.

Until 2018, Jack practiced in the Houston office of Townsend & Jones, L.L.P., and now is a solo practitioner. (Jack's former partner, Larry Jones, is deceased.) 

Jack splits his time between Houston and Charlottesville, VA.

Jack received his law degree (LL.B.) from the University of Virginia in 1967 and his Master of Laws in Taxation from New York University in 1969.

From 1969 through 1977, Jack was a Trial Attorney in the Tax Division of the United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C. While with the Tax Division, he handled cases in the United States Courts of Appeals, with incidental work on briefs in opposition in the Supreme Court, from 1969 through 1974, and handled trials in the United States District Courts from 1974 through March 1977.

Since leaving DOJ Tax in 1977, Jack has been in the private practice of law in Houston, Texas, and currently focuses his practice principally on tax controversy and tax litigation matters.

From about 1982 (exact year lost in the shroud of time) until December 2015 (with about 5 years off), Jack was an adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Houston Law Center where he originally taught Real Estate Taxation but then settled into teaching two tax controversy related courses for law students and graduate law students:  (i) Tax Procedure and (ii) Tax Fraud and Money Laundering (a Federal Tax Crimes course). Incident to this teaching over the years, Jack prepared two texts — on Federal Tax Procedure and Federal Tax Crimes — for student use in his courses. The Federal Tax Procedure book continues to be self-published annually; the current editions are downloadable on SSRN with the links available here.

In addition, Jack and colleagues have published a Tax Crimes book published by Carolina Academic Press here.

Finally, Jack is the principal author for Chapter 12 on Tax Crimes in Michael Saltzman and Leslie Book, IRS Practice and Procedure (Thomsen Reuters 2015), here, which is the seminal treatise in tax procedure.

Some of Jack's other publications are on his SSRN site here.

Jack regularly participates in tax seminars and tax professional groups. He has also authored several tax articles in leading tax publications on tax litigation and other tax subjects.

Jack is licensed to practice law in the State of Texas.

Jack is rated prominently in Best Lawyers in America, and Chambers and Partners Americas Leading Business Lawyers as a Tax Lawyer nationally ranked in Tax Litigation and Tax Controversy. In 2002, the Texas Lawyer, the publication for Texas legal news, ranked him in its first quintennial “Go-to-Guide” (Oct. 2002) as being among Texas’ top 5 “Top Notch” tax lawyers. In the selective quotes from the lawyers surveyed were the following: “Understands how the IRS works and is not afraid to tackle any tax issue” and “Very ethical, but will push the government hard and demand everything in sight.” In its 2012 quintennial edition, the Texas Lawyer again ranked him as being among the 5 Go-To Guide Lawyers for Tax Law, with the following quotes from two of the surveyed lawyers: “Jack Townsend is a top-flight tax controversy guy. I would without hesitation refer any kind of tax controversy work to Jack Townsend.” “He’s very smart, completely ethical and hardworking.”

The foregoing is a summary of Jack's law practice over the years. But Jack is particularly gratified with two offshoots of his law practice that involve tax legislation. I switch my voice to the first person in the following discussion.

First, while with the Appellate Section of the Tax Division, I worked on legislative proposals that led to the original innocent spouse provisions in the Internal Revenue. As footnoted in my Federal Tax Procedure Book (Practitioner Edition):
A bit of history not essential for understanding the innocent spouse provisions.  The innocent spouse provisions were enacted in the early 1971.  Before that enactment, I was working at DOJ Tax Appellate Section and handled one of the more egregious cases in the context, involving separate property liability (Ramos v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1969-157 (held spouse held liable, although “harsh”), rev’d 429 F.2d 487 (5th Cir. 1970)) and was aware of other cases in the office involving joint return liability in harsh contexts (e.g., Scudder v. Commissioner, 48 T.C. 36 (1967) (held spouse liable under joint liability provision), rev'd on other grounds, 405 F.2d 222 (6th Cir. 1968)).  From that work, I drafted proposed legislation that, if enacted, would grant innocent spouse relief.  The Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division sent the proposal to the IRS with a recommendation that the IRS work on it and make a formal proposal to Congress.  The IRS resisted. The AAG finally said that, if the IRS would not make a proposal to Congress, DOJ Tax would. At the point, the IRS worked on and made the proposal resulting in the initial innocent spouse provisions (§§ 6013(e) and 66). The IRS proposal and resulting statute were much stricter than my proposal sent to the IRS by the AAG, but as the AAG said half a loaf is better than no loaf. And, later, in 1998, the innocent spouse provisions were substantially liberalized.
Second, in the early to mid-1980s, I had another foray into tax legislation that, he thought, he could just raise with (educate) Congress, quickly get sponsors, no one would seriously oppose, and it would breeze through. I was wrong. The issue was whether persons traveling away from home for medical treatment could deduct their travel and lodging costs. The issue came to my consciousness when I and Chuck Cummings, a Houston CPA, gave a talk to a group of parents at the Ronald McDonald House whose children had cancer. The parents asked why they could not deduct travel and lodging expenses while away from home for medical treatment. I deferred to Chuck, a return preparer who knows that type of rule. Chuck said those expenses were not deductible. Well, I said the expenses should be deductible because medical expenses are deductible, and these costs are related to the policy decision already made to permit deduction of medical expenses. (The arguments were a lot more nuanced, but that was the thrust of it.) I then set off on what seemed for a long time to be a quixotic adventure to move Congress on the issue. Most congress members were too busy or indifferent, but Senator Dole (Senate Finance Committee) strongly resisted; his staff person said Senator Dole would stop the proposal if it got to the Senate.  (I never understood why Senator Dole was so opposed.) Somehow, a staff person on the House Ways and Means Committee became interested in the issue. And she somehow got Congressmen Fortney Stark and Barber Conable interested. Congressmen Stark and Conable were on the Ways and Means Committee, the House tax-writing committee. With some effort, the House included the proposal in a large tax act. When the act went to the Senate, Senator Dole cut it out of the tax act that the Senate passed. Because the two acts differed in several respects (including this one), a Conference Committee was convened to resolve the differences between the House and the Senate. Word was that Senator Dole, who was on the Conference Committee, was actively and adamantly trying to get the Conference Committee to reject the proposal. But, after a lot of intrigue (too much to get into here), the proposal was included in the Conference Committee proposal which quickly passed both houses of Congress.