Over at the Tax Court, the judges are getting a little testy over the maze of seemingly inconsequential cases that come their way. For example, the court recently ruled in favor of the Internal Revenue Service in finding that a St. Louis couple could not allocate their income to their eight children to escape taxation. The children had been helping their mother supplement the family coffers by cutting and assembling ribbons and streamers at home, but the income was the mother's, the court ruled, because she was the one who had a contract to do the work and she was the one who controlled it. The ruling will cost the family $3,183 in taxes.

In making that finding, Judge William Fay sharply criticized the IRS for attempting to impose a fraud penalty on the couple for not listing the income on their tax return. The IRS dropped the fraud claim before the case was decided and had no chance of proving it, Fay wrote. "In reality this case should never have come before this court," he said. "Facing an ever-increasing backlog of cases, this court's valuable time commands a better sense of responsibility by those practicing before it. The scars and wasted time are not undone by" the IRS' dropping the fraud issue, Fay wrote.