TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, February 20, 2006

Death of Janet Spragens

Spragens_2I am very sorry to bring you the news that Janet Spragens (American) died last night at the too-young age of 62. I will bring you more details as they become available.  In the meantime, I am reprinting portions of last month's TaxProf Blog post on Janet's receipt of the ABA Tax Section's 2006 Pro Bono Award:

Spragens founded one of the earliest and most successful low-income taxpayer clinics in the country in 1990 -- the Federal Tax Clinic at American University’s Washington College of Law -- and has served as its director since that time. Her work includes training and supervising law students representing low-income taxpayers in federal and state tax controversies often heard before the Tax Court, and teaching tax law classes. Spragens has been on the forefront of issues involving the rights of underserved taxpayers, and her testimony before the National Commission on Restructuring the Internal Revenue Service in 1997 was widely considered to be instrumental in achieving federal funding for non-profit low-income taxpayer clinics.

“Janet Spragens has been a mentor to many lawyers, such as me, who have been inspired and influenced by her considerable commitment to the pro bono community and to the welfare of low-income taxpayers,” said Les Book, professor of law and director of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Villanova University School of Law. “Her influence in the area of tax law will long be felt by those Americans who need it most and by those of us in the profession who have been guided by her work. She is truly a pioneer in the field of legal representation for low income taxpayers.”

Spragens began her legal career as a clerk for D.C. Federal District Court Judge Oliver Gasch, and then as an attorney with the Appellate Section of the Justice Department Tax Division. In 1973, she joined the faculty at the American University Washington College of Law, and has been a tax professor there since that time. Her many outside activities have included visiting professorships at Northwestern University, the University of San Diego, and law schools in Israel, Chile and China. She has served as executive director of the American Tax Policy Institute (1996-2001), and has long been active in the American Bar Association Section of Taxation, as a member of the council, and former chair, of the section’s Low Income Taxpayer and Teaching Taxation committees.

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As I thought about Janet today, my sorrow lifted a little as I remembered an incident from a trip to Costa Rica that captured my feelings about her, although it was not a trip we took together. On that trip, a group of us rented a car to do some sightseeing. Posted in the vehicle, this notice was prominently displayed: “Do not leave your values in the car.” Janet never left her values in the car; they informed everything she did. She knew what was important, what mattered in the scheme of things, and pursued it, always without pretension or self-importance or worry about what others would think. When I wanted advice full of good judgment and common sense, I knew I could turn to Janet. I will so much miss being able to do so, but am sure that, in facing decisions in the coming years, I will often ask myself what Janet would have said to me and use that answer as a guide.

Posted by: Ellen Aprill | Feb 20, 2006 12:42:31 PM

Throughout my life, I have experienced a handful of moments of unsolicited kindness that I like to think have shaped my relationships with others. Janet Spragens provided one such moment. Janet was my tax professor in my last semester at WCL in 1974. During my taking her tax class, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease and treated with an intense course of radiation therapy. I was hospitalized most of the semester, and I was unable to attend most of my classes. Being aware of my circumstance, Janet sought me out and offered to tutor me on my time schedule. Her tutoring sessions were a small part tax instructions and a large part personal support and encouragement. She re-scheduled my final exam for a time that she felt I was ready to take it, and she took time out of her schedule to proctor the exam. Through Janet's encouragement, and at her insistence, I graduated on schedule. I remember very little about the intricacies of tax that Janet taught me, but I have carried her kindness with me for 32 years. God bless.

Posted by: Tim Kennedy | Mar 28, 2006 6:34:37 AM

I only recently found out that Professor Spragens died. I was shocked and dismayed. She was my tax professor at AU/WCL in the Fall of 2002. I was always impressed by her approach to tax law. She made the subject less complicated for the non-aspiring tax lawyer. For Tax Year 2004, I was the Tax Officer and ran the Tax Center at Fort Irwin where I am stationed as a Judge Advocate. One of the publications I purchased was on how to effectively communicate with the IRS in collection actions. No surprise, it was written, in part, by Professor Spragens. I remember e-mailing her and letting her know that, once again, I was learning from her. She was a great professor and she will be missed. I was honored to have her as my Tax professor.

Posted by: CPT Ean P. White | Sep 14, 2006 9:01:45 AM