In Mary L. Smith’s otherwise uneventful Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing this afternoon, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) sharply questioned the Chicago-based lawyer’s qualifications to head the Tax Division.
“You have virtually no experience in tax work, it seems to me,” Sessions said. “First, would you tell us what tax experience you have?”
Smith mentioned her pasts work as in-house counsel at Tyco, where she managed complex financial litigation stemming from the 2005 convictions of Tyco executives Dennis Kozlowski and Mark Schwatz for stealing $134 million from the company.
“That case involved many different allegations of security fraud, there were many complex accounting issues,” Smith said. “I have to say senator that I delved in deeply to that and often times knew the facts of the accounting issues better than most of the people involved in the case.”
Sessions, the new ranking member of the panel, wasn’t convinced. “That’s just not much,” the Alabama Republican said. “That’s troubling to me. I don’t know why it would be necessary to choose someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience in the area.”
Smith was a trial attorney in the Civil Division’s commercial litigation branch from 1994 to 1996. She is currently a partner at Schoeman, Updike, Kaufman and Scharf, a women-owned law firm in Chicago.
Sessions also asked Smith if she is familiar with Tax Division standards on illegal tax shelters — a big area of litigation right now, with the U.S. pressing Swiss bank UBS to reveal the names of Americans who avoided income taxes with overseas accounts.
“Senator, I have read some things, but I am not in the department yet,” Smith said. She said she expected to get up to speed quickly if confirmed.
“I’m just a bit uneasy to me to have someone with so little experience in this,” Sessions repeated. But he added: “I don’t have any information that you lack integrity or a good work ethic.” The senator said he may submit a few written questions for the record. And then the hearing - which also included questions for Gerard Lynch, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit — was adjourned.