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IRS gives up records, complying with 1976 court order

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  1. Freedom of Information
More than three months after a federal court ordered the Internal Revenue Service to release documents in a decades-old Freedom…

More than three months after a federal court ordered the Internal Revenue Service to release documents in a decades-old Freedom of Information Act request, the agency on Tuesday finally turned the documents over.

The dispute stems from a 1976 court order requiring the IRS to regularly release data to Susan B. Long, co-director of the Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse, a non-profit research organization. Long is also a professor at Syracuse University.

The records Long sought are monthly statistical reports the IRS released from 1976 to 2004. The agency then changed the type of statistical reports it compiled and stopped sending Long the files, claiming the new records held confidential information. Long went to court to force the IRS to disclose the new versions of the reports.

In June, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered the IRS to hand them over to her. But the IRS asked the court to let it hold back until it had exhausted its appeals.

Twice, the court declined to do so. Its latest order, released on Oct. 1, chided the IRS for having "repeatedly defied" orders and demanded the agency immediately release the records.

The IRS also sought  expedited review from the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) on whether it had to release the documents before an appeal was heard.

After Long’s attorney wrote a letter to the Ninth Circuit, the IRS withdrew its request for expedited review. Moreover, it released the unredacted records to Long, complying with the district court order.

However, the IRS is still pressing the Ninth Circuit to review the district court ruling. The agency argues that since Long’s requests for the records will continue, the conflict is not moot, even though IRS has now released what she asked for.