Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, February 22, 1999

It’s a taxing* time
again *(not optional)

IT'S time to file your tax returns again, a voluntary act under the law that I once saw explained by an excitable federal judge to a defendant in this way: "Yes, it's voluntary. You volunteer to do it OR SOMETHING BAD HAPPENS TO YOU!"

True story. He was one of those visiting judges we used to get because we didn't have enough federal judges of our own. The visiting judges' temperament fluctuated between "extremely grumpy" to "unrestrained hostility." I won't name names because, frankly, I'm still scared of them and I haven't been within two blocks of federal court in about six years. I always had the impression the reason these judges were picked to "visit" was because their home state wanted them the hell out of there.

In one incident, a plaintiff in a civil suit against the government, a man who had been partially paralyzed in an accident, was hobbling toward the stand to testify when the visiting federal judge leaned over and snarled, "Speed it up, Mr. (Name Withheld), there's no jury here."

In another case, the judge had locked up one of the lawyers overnight for contempt (this judge found anything short of complete prostration on the rug before him as contempt).

Upon his release, the lawyer went across the street to whine to the press about his harsh treatment. He thought that by holding the press conference off of federal property he would be shielded from the judge's wrath. I found out later that he escaped going back to jail only because the judge's wife did not want to stay in Hawaii another day. Sources told me the judge had seen the press conference on television and said something like, "Whataya think honey, should I lock that guy up again?" Luckily for the attorney, the wife was ready to hit the bricks.

Ah, but I didn't mean to skip down memory lane, recalling all the happy visions visiting federal judges have burnt into my memory. I wanted to talk about filing taxes, since the filing date is almost here.

There are people who make a living convincing other people that filing taxes is voluntary. While technically true, in reality filing a tax return is as voluntary as choosing to ignore the law of gravity. Try to jump off a building because you don't believe in gravity, and as the sage old visiting judge said, "SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN TO YOU!"

BUT there are always a few people who swallow the voluntary filing pitch, usually good-hearted but naive folks sucked in by members of the anti-tax movement. The people who go around the country holding seminars about not paying taxes brag that they don't pay and they've never been arrested.

That may be true.

The saps who actually buy their pitch are the ones who end up going to prison. Every year one or two of these suckers are hauled in to federal court where they stand before a judge, clutching a copy of the U.S. Constitution and claiming that paying taxes is voluntary.

They hold up the little anti-tax movement booklet they bought and cite various cases that have been laughed out of court years ago and in the end they find their butts in prison while the guys who sold them material skip away to sell their hallucinations to some other stooges.

I point this out because I know some of you are probably toying with the idea of not filing your returns. You're mad because the government has a huge surplus and President Clinton won't give any of it back to you. Stop. Don't go there.

I don't want to appear to be a government lackey but I can't stand seeing another person sucked in by anti-tax con artists. File the damn returns. Trust me, it's better to argue tax philosophy with friends at a bar, not before the bar. Especially if your judge is from out of town.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

or send E-mail to charley@nomayo.com or

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