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Jerome Libin For Jerome Libin, it’s d�j� vu all over again. In 2004, the Sutherland Asbill & Brennan partner secured a $57 million tax refund for the State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. in a dispute over the alternative minimum tax, knocking out an Internal Revenue Service claim that the company owed $2 million. Now the ante has been upped. In a case pending before the U.S. Tax Court, the IRS charges that State Farm owes the government $109 million, while the company argues that it’s entitled to a $510 million refund. Once again, the fight is over the application of the alternative minimum tax, albeit under a different set of rules. For Libin, 68, the case is just the latest in a long line of high-stakes fights on behalf of some of the largest entities in the world. Roger Wheeler, chief tax officer for the General Motors Corp., calls him “the consummate lawyer.” Says Wheeler: “He comes up with solutions that are appropriate for difficult business situations.” His style, Wheeler adds, is calm, patient, and low-key. “He puts you at ease. He’s a very good listener, and he’s very attentive to details. He understands the ambiance of a situation and tailors his advice to that.” The current president of the 10,000-member International Fiscal Association, the largest professional group in the world devoted exclusively to the study of international tax matters, Libin has substantial experience dealing with global tax issues. “What really makes the international area so fascinating,” he says, “is the constantly changing global landscape.” In the mid-1990s, Libin handled a test case for the entire Canadian life insurance industry. At issue: how the Canadian companies were required to report their U.S. investment income. The U.S. Tax Court in North West Life Assurance Co. v. Commissioner (1996) upheld Libin’s position that the US-Canada Tax Treaty, which provided for a different reporting method, should prevail over the Internal Revenue Code provision in question. “It is a rather important case on how bilateral tax treaties are to be interpreted,” Libin notes. Another international client is the United Kingdom. Libin wrote an amicus brief on the U.K. government’s behalf in a dispute between the IRS and the National Westminster Bank over the reporting of U.S. income by U.K. banks. The case is pending before the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Libin also represented the U.K. government as an amicus in a 1994 Supreme Court case over California tax law. Libin himself won a Supreme Court victory for Kraft General Foods Inc. in 1992. The company challenged an Iowa law that taxed dividends from foreign subsidiaries at a higher rate than dividends from domestic subsidiaries. Libin argued this was discrimination against foreign commerce. In a 7-2 decision, the Court backed his position in Kraft Foods v. Iowa Department of Revenue. Libin’s familiarity with the high court goes back to the beginning of his legal career. After earning his law degree from the University of Michigan in 1959, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Charles Whittaker. The experience, says Libin, was “as interesting and exciting as anything I’ve done since.” He joined the D.C. office of Sutherland Asbill in 1961 as the firm’s 19th lawyer. Today he heads the 70-lawyer tax group, where colleagues include Herbert Beller, Clifford Muller, and Giovanna Sparagna. Libin says his practice is currently about 50 percent litigation and 50 percent tax planning. Longtime client Joseph Cottonaro, director of taxes at the Hershey Foods Corp., says he thinks “very highly” of Libin. “He does a very good job of integrating the tax law to your company and, more importantly, to your company’s tax temperament.” Another of Libin’s big U.S. clients is the Altria Group, formerly Philip Morris Inc. Among other matters, he represented the company when the government challenged the allocation of its purchase price for the Seven-Up Co. (which has since become part of Cadbury-Schweppes). The case was resolved in the company’s favor by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1992. Last year, Libin wrote an amicus brief for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other groups in a pair of Supreme Court cases. The groups objected to the “double taxation” of contingent fees, whereby the plaintiff must pay taxes on the entire award even though his lawyer also pays taxes on the contingent fee portion. Although the high court upheld double taxation in other circumstances, Libin says he was “very pleased that the Court reserved its position on one issue we were quite concerned about.” (Congress subsequently amended the law for civil rights cases.) He adds, “It was a wonderful opportunity to participate in a tax case before the Supreme Court on a pro bono basis.”

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