Sometimes it really feels like something untoward is going on, but the suspicion is difficult to confirm. I’m having one of those moments regarding the Minnesota Tax Court.
Here’s my concern: In doing regular research, staff at Tax Analysts realized that the Minnesota Tax Court hadn’t published any new opinions to its website in several months. That is odd, so an inquiry was sent to the court to ask if the location of published opinions had changed or if the court had stopped publishing opinions.
The court responded that its website was under construction and that recent tax court decisions could be found on Westlaw. Eventually it added that a paralegal would attend to the request – next week.
It is unclear what the motivation would be to withhold opinions from the public, but the court seems to be acting cagey here about releasing opinions for the last three months of 2015 and the first few weeks of 2016. A lawyer with access to Westlaw sent us 10 cases from that time period, none of which had been posted on the court’s website.
At first the court blamed its failure to post cases in a timely fashion on a website “glitch.” Now the site is apparently “under construction.” But the court makes no notation on its website that opinions are not being posted, where they can be found, or even that the site is under construction. One would think the website would contain an obvious notice if it were out of date or if functionality was missing.
And then there is the idea that the court would require everyone -- including, it appears, the general public -- to use Westlaw to obtain opinions. Westlaw is an expensive research tool. Many small law firms (and nonprofits) can’t afford Westlaw, so it is absurd to think the average citizen should be required to sign up for it to view court opinions. Still, according to Minnesota Administrative Rule, 8610.0120, “hearings before the tax court are open to the public. All findings and decisions of the tax court, after they have been filed with the court administrator, are a matter of public record.” As a matter of public record, there should be a viable means of viewing the records.
At the moment, all I can say is that this is odd. I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist, but sometimes it can be hard to avoid it.