Taxpayers Will Cover Legal Defense of IRS Workers Hit by Scandal

Susan Walsh/AP

This article has been updated.

Though the scandal that rocked the Internal Revenue Service last May has receded from the headlines, the cost to taxpayers of all the investigations and reforms is still an active account.

The Justice Department recently moved to hire two law firms to defend the personal interest of 19 IRS employees based in Washington and Cincinnati, where the alleged targeting of political conservatives applying for tax-exempt status was executed.

That’s according to an exclusive published Monday by The Cincinnati Enquirer. The federal government has signed up the firms of Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP and Squire Sanders LLP for up to $200 an hour, plus expenses, with a cap at 120 hours per month.

Reporter James Pilcher, who got confirmation from Justice, quoted experts saying the practice is normal. "No one would be willing to take these jobs at places like the IRS if the government wasn't willing to help protect them from legal suits like this," said Donald Tobin, a law professor at Ohio State University and a former lawyer with the Justice Department. "While it doesn't happen a lot that the government contracts with private counsel, in these kinds of cases, they almost have to."

A Justice Department spokesperson told Government Executive that “the federal government routinely makes legal representation available to federal employees who face lawsuits arising out of their employment. It is the department’s longstanding policy to provide representation to federal employees for conduct performed within the scope of their employment, and as appropriate, it may choose to do so by retaining private counsel at government expense.”

Lawsuits against the IRS have been filed by various tea party groups who said they were targeted in a process that IRS used to determine whether applicants for nonprofit status were spending inordinate amounts of resources on politics. A major suit was brought in May by the conservative American Center for Law and Justice.

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