United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
Wilfred I. Aka, Appellant
United States Tax Court, Appellee
November 18, 2016
Appeal from the Final Order of the United States Tax Court
Wilfred I. Aka, pro se, argued the cause and filed the briefs
Jennifer M. Rubin, Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice,
argued the cause for appellee. With her on the briefs was
Michael J. Haungs, Attorney.
Before: Rogers, Brown, and Griffith, Circuit Judges.
Griffith, Circuit Judge
have duties not only to clients, but to opposing counsel and
courts. Because our legal system depends on attorneys working
with opponents and abiding by court orders, each court has
the "inherent power" to control attorneys'
admission to its bar and their expulsion. In re
Echeles, 430 F.2d 347, 349 (7th Cir. 1970).
United States Tax Court has disbarred Wilfred I. Aka for
repeated failures to discharge his duties to the court,
clients, and opposing counsel alike. Today we uphold its
order, clarifying in the process the basis for our
jurisdiction in this case and the proper standard of review.
we must take up the question of whether we have jurisdiction
to review the Tax Court's disbarment orders. Section
7482(a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) gives the
federal courts of appeals (aside from the Federal Circuit)
jurisdiction to review "decisions" of the Tax Court
"in the same manner and to the same extent as decisions
of the district courts in civil [bench trials]." 26
U.S.C. § 7482(a)(1). But civil bench trials-in which
courts resolve disputes between adverse parties-differ
significantly from disbarment proceedings, in which a court
exercises its inherent power to police its own bar. See
Brooks v. Laws, 208 F.2d 18, 22 (D.C. Cir. 1953) (a
district court's application of its rules to deny someone
admission to its bar "is not appealable"). This
contrast raises the possibility that Tax Court disbarment
orders-unlike Tax Court trial orders-fall outside our
appellate jurisdiction under the IRC.
concern is reinforced by the only other IRC provision
providing hints on what counts as a Tax Court
"decision." In the course of explaining how to
determine the date of entry of a "decision of the Tax
Court," this second provision mentions only declaratory
judgments and orders specifying how much a taxpayer still
owes (i.e., notices of deficiency). 26 U.S.C. § 7459(c).
That disbarment orders are neither might further suggest that
they are not "decisions of the Tax Court" subject
to our review. See Commissioner of Internal Revenue v.
Smith Paper, Inc., 222 F.2d 126, 129 (1st Cir. 1955)
(reading a precursor to section 7459(c) as enumerating the
only Tax Court "decisions" subject to
rejected that suggestion in an earlier case, however, seeing
"no reason to believe that . . . § 7459(c) . . . in
any way meant to limit appellate jurisdiction over . . .
decisions [of the Tax Court]." InverWorld, Ltd. v.
Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 979 F.2d 868, 872
(D.C. Cir. 1992). Instead we have held that section
7482(a)(1) "is the controlling provision" for
"appellate review." Id. Under that
section, "finality of the Tax Court's order [is] the
criterion." Id. Thus, we have jurisdiction to
review final Tax Court orders.
disbarment orders are final. In re Fletcher, 107
F.2d 666, 668 (D.C. Cir. 1939) (labeling them "final
order[s] . . . reviewable by appeal"). They are
"unequivocal determinations" that take
"immediate" effect, leaving no issues unresolved.
InverWorld, 979 F.2d at 872. Thus, the Supreme Court
has reviewed disbarment orders of circuit courts, see,
e.g., In re Ruffalo, 390 U.S. 544 (1968), and
we have reviewed those of our district court, see,
e.g., Fletcher, 107 F.2d at 668. Disbarment
orders of the Tax Court, whose decisions we review "in
the same manner and to the same extent" as those of a
district court judge, merit the same treatment. 26 U.S.C.
§ 7482(a)(1); see InverWorld, 979 F.2d at 872
(exercising jurisdiction over a Tax Court order when a
"similar district court decision would be considered
final . . . because the court has completely disposed of the
we have reviewed Tax Court disbarment orders on previous
occasions, see In re Thies, 662 F.2d 771 (D.C. Cir.
1980); Rodriguez v. U.S. Tax Court, 398 Fed.
App'x 614 (D.C. Cir. 2010); Krouner v. U.S. Tax
Court, 202 Fed. App'x 470 (D.C. Cir. 2006), we have
not expressly held that we have jurisdiction to do so. Today
we confirm that we do.
preliminary matter: our court has not settled on a standard
of review for such disbarment orders. See Rodriguez,
398 Fed. App'x at 614 (declining to choose between abuse
of discretion and ...