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Legal Aid attorney on hand to help low-income taxpayers

Dana Goldstein, right, heads up the low income taxpayer clinic at Community Legal Aid Services. Even with all the difficulties she encounters, Goldstein’s supervisor of five years, Laureen Moore, left, says that Goldstein is an effective advocate for her low-income clients. (Photo courtesy of Community Legal Aid Services).

Legal News Reporter

Published: April 2, 2013

Tax season can be a stressful time for anybody filing a return. However, for low-income individuals and families, it can be particularly difficult. Attorney Dana Goldstein, 55, has a passion for helping those who lack the knowledge and financial means to navigate the federal tax code.

“Low-income tax payers are really like most middle-class citizens,” she said. “They want to be compliant with the tax system and they want to correctly report their income and pay their fair share of the tax liability. The challenge for them is that the tax code is so difficult to understand that trying to be compliant with very limited resources is difficult.”

Goldstein, a Lyndhurst resident, oversees the low income taxpayer clinic at Community Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm which provides legal services to low-income clients in Columbiana, Mahoning, Medina, Portage, Stark, Summit, Trumbull and Wayne counties. It was her first job after graduating from The Ohio State University School of Law.

“I started working for Legal Aid in 1983 as soon as I graduated from law school because that’s where I wanted to work,” she said. “That’s the reason I went to law school.”

After a 10-year detour into personal injury law, Goldstein returned to Legal Aid in 1997.

“I started working personal injury because at the time there was a lot of pressure to close down Legal Aid,” she said. “We had to do a lot of paperwork, which I thought was inefficient and a waste of taxpayer dollars, so I left Legal Aid. Then I came back to it. That (legal aid) was my first love and that’s what I wanted to do.”

Goldstein said that unlike most middle to upper-income taxpayers, low-income people do not have access to accountants and attorneys. As the tax code exists now, it discriminates against low-income taxpayers, she said.

“The complex tax system, which by its very nature, creates a system of unequal access but it also intentionally creates opportunities for loopholes that those with high incomes can avail themselves of,” she said. “It creates a disparity and a discrimination.”

Goldstein has also worked with identity theft and recently has represented more than 50 people in the Canton area who were victims of a scam. The individuals involved had been told that they were eligible for stimulus money by the scam artists who for a “finder’s fee” then filed tax returns using the Cantonians’ social security numbers.

“The bottom line is now these clients are faced with the situation of paying back the IRS for the amount they received, which was unauthorized, but also payment for the amount they never received, plus penalties and interests,” Goldstein said. “Now they are in a far worse financial situation than they ever were and paying back these debts could potentially create an eviction situation.”

As of January, Goldstein said the IRS has been inundated with identity theft.

“There were about 650,000 reported cases of identity theft at the IRS in 2012,” she said. “The Tax Payer Advocate listed identity theft as the most serious problem confronting the IRS.”

Goldstein shared this story when she spoke in Washington D.C. at a conference of attorneys who also work at Legal Aids around the country. She said she was caught off guard by the crowd’s enthusiastic response to her speech.

“I think it struck a chord with the people in the audience,” she said. “Because I talked about the hardship not only for the clients who are faced with owing the IRS the money they received but also the money they didn’t receive, plus the penalties and interests,” she said. “I also talked about the difficulty in processing these cases, in part because the IRS is just not up to speed on handling these tax theft cases. So it’s difficult for the clients and it’s difficult for the attorneys.”

Even with all the difficulties she encounters, Goldstein’s supervisor of five years, Laureen Moore, says that Goldstein is an effective advocate for her low-income clients.

“The area of law that Dana is practicing, very few of her clients are able to advocate for themselves with the tax system,” she said. “Dana does such a great job advocating for them. She’s a hard worker. She cares about her clients and tries to be very thorough. She’s very good at issue spotting. Legal Aid was her passion from the very beginning.”

Goldstein not only practices law, she also teaches an introductory law class and even speaks to groups about tax, credit and financial issues.

“Since there is such a demand for legal representation among low-income people, we are constantly struggling with how we are going to provide services,” she said. “So we decided to do public speaking and least try to educate the public about various consumer issues. We’ve gone to libraries, senior centers, Habitat for Humanity. We go to a lot of public service organizations.”

No matter what area of the law, Goldstein said she believes that providing representation for low-income clients is the foundation of the American legal system.

“The words ‘Equal Justice Under the Law’ that is chiseled into the stone of the U.S. Supreme Court building, I believe should not only be an aspiration, but a reality,” she said. “For me, the manner in which we treat the most vulnerable people in our society, the people with the least amount of power, the least influence and the least amount of money, is really a direct reflection on us. It’s a direct reflection on our communities and our society. That’s why I became a legal aid attorney.”

For more information on Community Legal Aid, visit www.communitylegalaid.org.