Governor Bentley Appoints Alabama Tax Tribunal Chief Judge

Governor Robert Bentley has appointed Alabama Department of Revenue Chief Administrative Law Judge Bill Thompson as the first chief judge of the new Alabama Tax Tribunal.

Bentley appointed Thompson on May 19 and his appointment becomes effective Oct. 1 when the Alabama Tax Tribunal, created by the Taxpayer Fairness Act of 2014, begins operation.

Creating an independent tax adjudication agency has been a goal of the Business Council of Alabama.

The Taxpayer Fairness Act, formerly known as the Alabama Taxpayers Bill of Rights II, transfers the ADOR’s Administrative Law Division personnel and equipment to the newly formed, independent executive branch state agency, according to an article written for Tax Analysts by attorneys Bruce P. Ely and James E. Long Jr.

The 2014 Legislature passed the Taxpayer Fairness Act and Governor Bentley signed it into law on March 11, as Act No. 2014-146. It was sponsored by Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, and handled in the Senate by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville.
An independent tax tribunal will increase public confidence in the system’s fairness by resolving disputes between the ADOR and taxpayers.

“Since the beginning, the singular goal of this legislation has been fairness, and the BCA commends the Alabama Legislature for updating the current TBOR,” said BCA President and CEO William J. Canary. “We thank Governor Bentley for signing the Alabama Tax Tribunal legislation and for his appointment of Thompson.”

TBOR II has been a BCA priority for several years, as a majority of states have adopted some form of independent tax appeals model. Others in the Alabama business community joined forces with the BCA in support of the legislation under the banner of the Business Associations’ Tax Coalition (BATC), which includes 27-member business and trade associations.

Attempts to pass this legislation stretch back to the late 1990s. Over the years, the legislation has not been enacted for various reasons, including anti-business leanings of previous legislatures, misunderstandings, erroneous conclusions, apathy concerning the bill, and even simple bad luck.

Bentley’s signature on HB105 was a significant step toward tax appeal fairness and a major boost to business, municipalities, and county governments. Thompson will draft regulations to govern Alabama Tax Tribunal procedures on all appeals cases filed with the agency.

Thompson has been the ADOR’s chief ALJ since 1983 and has presided over more than 22,000 cases involving tax appeals administered by the Revenue Department.

“He is a great judge, an inspiration to us all and our field is better because of his many learned, thoughtful decisions,” said Paul Frankel, senior counsel in the state and local tax group of Morrison & Forster LLP.

“He has earned the respect of the taxpayer and tax administrator communities, and I’m certain that his leadership and sense of fair play will set the Tribunal on a proper course during its formative years,” Doug Lindholm, executive director of the Council on State Taxation, said.

Thompson graduated from Auburn University in 1973 and is a 1976 graduate of the University of Alabama Law School. From 1976 to 1983 he was assistant counsel for the ADOR, specializing in corporate and income tax disputes.

Thompson received the Alabama State Bar’s Award of Merit in 1997, the Bloomberg BNA Franklin C. Latcham Award for distinguished service in state and local tax law in 2010, and was recently named by State Tax Notes in its 2013 person of the year feature.

Photo contributed by Judge Thompson

-Dana Beyerle