Fordham’s Federal Tax Clinic Secures Major Settlement in Tax Court


When members of Fordham’s Federal Tax Clinic visited the United States Tax Court in Manhattan this spring, the students never imagined they would be leaving with a case in their hands and, later, a victory under their belts.

Their client was embroiled in a decade-long legal battle—against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over tax liabilities resulting from a settlement with a mortgage bank. However, through the efforts of Sarah Fellenbaum ’25, Saenam Kim ’24, Hugh Malesh ’24, and Cory Wong ’25—and the guidance of Professor Elizabeth Maresca, supervising attorney of the Federal Tax Clinic—the client’s tax debt was reduced from nearly $184,000 to less than $13,500.

“It was really a collective effort,” Fellenbaum said. “This case was the first time I had dealt with an issue where there wasn’t an answer that you could find. There was no analogous case law, no clear cut legal issue, and nothing that we could point to and say, ‘This is why we’re right.’ Our argument changed 10 times over before we got to the finished product because we were constantly revising, going back, taking things out, adding things in, reorganizing it, and redoing it until it was the best case we could make.”

After enduring years of legal battles and the looming threat of foreclosure on her home, the client sought relief through the legal system, bringing action against the lenders and servicers of her mortgage loan. At first, it seemed the client represented herself successfully. She was able to come to a settlement agreement with the mortgage bank—which included a $65,000 cash payment and an equitable reformation of the loan terms—the IRS then came after the client, asserting that she had tax liabilities in excess of $150,000 from the settlement with the mortgage bank.

The case, according to Kim, not only highlighted the devastating repercussions of predatory lending practices but also the invaluable contribution of legal advocates in navigating complex tax law.

“Most people don’t have any access to representation and don’t have people like us or this kind of clinic representing them,” Kim said. “And because they don’t know how to say the right thing in the right way, they could have a very different outcome. It makes you realize more resources are needed in this particular area.”

Despite the difficult legal issues and the fact they were juggling other clinic clients and cases besides their classes, the four students worked tirelessly for two months to mitigate the client’s tax debt before the trial date. Together, they learned a great deal about the law and themselves as future lawyers.

“There aren’t that many opportunities in law school to work with other people and create this one product under all of our names at the end of it,” reflected Wong. “It was a good challenge. I learned a lot about myself, too, in terms of showing up for my team and communicating with them. That’s something I wouldn’t have known unless I had done the clinic.”

Malesh said the clinic provided him with other invaluable lessons, “I came straight out of college to law school and I didn’t have much practical experience. From this, I realized I enjoy tax work and that I like the structure, the routine, and the challenge. But I think the big thing was it was nice to end the semester feeling accomplished and feeling like we did something to help someone.”

Maresca praised the dedication and hard work of her students, stating, “The students’ relentless effort and commitment were instrumental in achieving this remarkable outcome. They demonstrated exceptional legal skills and showcased their ability to work collaboratively under pressure. This victory is a testament to their hard work and the practical experience they gained in the clinic, which will undoubtedly serve them well in their future legal careers.”


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