Legal Aid’s Tax Practice Ensures Financial Stability for Clients


Camille Gill, Esq.

Davida Dodson, Esq.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) helps low-income people who have a problem with the Internal Revenue Service. Cleveland’s Legal Aid is one of 150 LITC’s across the United States, funded to provide representation before the IRS or in court on audits, tax collection disputes, and other issues. Cleveland Legal Aid’s LITC has a special focus on helping individuals with limited English proficiency.

Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics – including Cleveland Legal Aid’s – are not part of the IRS but they receive partial funding from the IRS via the LITC grant program.

Cleveland Legal Aid’s LITC is led by senior attorney Susan Morgenstern, who is nationally recognized for her advocacy on behalf of low-income taxpayers. Numerous other Legal Aid attorneys and pro bono volunteers handle tax cases. An example of a recent success story is that of Lorain resident and adoptive mother of two special needs children, Erin Smith.*

Legal Aid attorney Davida Dodson represented her in a divorce. In the divorce decree, custody of the children was split, but Ms. Smith had one extra day of custody with her children. That one extra day made Ms. Smith the primary caregiver, and hence Ms. Smith qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”). Having the ability to claim the EITC on her tax return meant additional financial stability for Ms. Smith, and provided her funds to tend to the needs of her special needs children.

However, after filing her 2011 tax return, Ms. Smith was contacted by the IRS, asking for additional paperwork and assessing her penalties for claiming the EITC in error.

Legal Aid attorney Camille Gill, in consultation with Susan Morgenstern, determined that Ms. Smith was not required to go through the hassle of this additional paperwork. The careful wording in the divorce decree was sufficient to preserve Ms. Smith’s EITC credit. Ms. Gill argued such and the IRS corrected Ms. Smith”˜s account and refunded the penalties they had incorrectly charged her. Ms. Smith was credited nearly $2,400.

* client’s name changed to protect privacy

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