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September 2018 - The Return of Diogenes

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

We live in an age of sequels. Particularly in summer. I don’t know whether there are more Rocky or more Star Wars movies, and all the Marvel movies seem interchangeable except for the size and capabilities of their characters.

The ancient Greeks have been left out of this constant recycling, possibly because their contributions were more intellectual than entertaining. But, history does, as they say, repeat itself, and I am proud to let you know that the spirit of Diogenes is alive and well.

Diogenes was a Greek philosopher who lived from approximately 404 BC to 323 BC. (I always have trouble with those “BC” years because it looks like he was born old and died younger.)

He is primarily known for carrying a lamp and claiming to be looking for an honest man. Since history is silent on the subject, I assume his search was unsuccessful.

Maybe that is because he didn’t take his lamp to the legal profession. Or, then again, maybe not.

Fast forward to 2003. That is when The Association for Honest Attorneys was founded in Kansas City, which as far as I know, is not a hotbed of Greek culture.

The Association for Honest Attorneys, which uses the ill-chosen acronym AHA!, was formed by one Joan Farr, a non-lawyer, and its principal place of business was her residence. It qualified as a non-profit under Kansas law and its avowed purposes were “discouraging civil litigation, increasing public awareness of the legal system and seeking ‘justice for all.’” Hard to quibble with that.

In June, 2003, The Association, which I will temporarily abbreviate by eliding the honest attorneys part since I can’t bring myself to use the acronym, applied to the Internal Revenue Service for recognition as a 501(c)(3) status. Its form stated that, among other things, it would sell a book entitled Ten Secrets You Must Know Before Hiring a Lawyer. The author, unsurprisingly, was Ms. Farr.

In November 2003, the Internal Revenue Service determined the Association was tax exempt.

So far so good, but you know if it stayed that way it would not be fodder for one of my columns.

In 2013, the IRS sent the Association a letter saying it wanted to take a look at the Association’s operations and activities. (In my book, that’s like getting a call from 60 Minutes, but I digress.)

Things went downhill from there, as the IRS found that the Association’s expenditures (by Ms. Farr) included exhuming and DNA testing her father’s remains, and purchases from, for example, Dillard’s, WalMart, Kwik Shop, Kohl’s, Walgreens, Dillons, Quik Trip, A & A Auto Salvage, Quick Lube, K-15 Auto Salvage, T & S Tree Service, Gene’s Stump Grinding Service, Lowes, and Star Lumber, to name just some. There were also substantial payments to an animal clinic and to her son’s military school.

It didn’t help that the State of Kansas also brought an action against her for the unlawful practice of law. Ms. Farr testified that the Association was doing the [legal] work, not her, but she conceded that she drafted pleadings, demand letters, and other “court papers.” The court noted, “Merely saying you are not a lawyer and do not give legal advice does not negate preparing legal papers for someone as giving legal advice.”

She appealed to the Court of Appeals for the State of Kansas, which affirmed the trial court’s findings that she had engaged in the unlawful practice of law.

In February 2015, the Internal Revenue Service revoked the Association’s tax-exempt status, finding that it operated for the benefit of private, not public, interests. She appealed, and in 2018, the U.S. Tax Court affirmed.

According to Ms. Farr, the Association of Honest Lawyers had no member lawyers since its founding and, like Diogenes, could not find an honest lawyer to represent it.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.