Evan L. Smith
After completing military service in the United States Army, Evan Smith returned to college and earned his Bachelor of Arts in Economics from Claremont McKenna College in 1978 and his Juris Doctor from Loyola Law School in 1981. He then initially practiced as a tax professional in the Los Angeles office of a Big 8 public accounting firm for 3 years, after which he joined a boutique Los Angeles law firm. While there, his practice focused on estate planning and probate, business planning and transactions, and civil tax disputes, including successfully defending a large group of taxpayers against substantial tax and penalty assessments by the IRS that arose from investments in a large, fraudulent, syndicated oil and gas partnership scheme.
In 1990, Mr. Smith joined with a law school classmate to form a law firm focused on matters involving bankruptcy, business reorganization, insolvency, and related tax matters. He has since practiced law either in firms at the partner level or as a sole practitioner. Mr. Smith is now Of Counsel to Messina & Hankin, resident in the Temecula Valley office, where his practice emphasizes taxation, business law, and insolvency matters, including Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization cases and alternatives to bankruptcy, and related civil litigation and appeals.
Professional Associations & Recognition
During his career, Mr. Smith has actively participated in several community service and professional associations. Presently, he is a member of the following groups:
- California Receivers Forum
- Inland Empire Bankruptcy Forum
- Southwest Inn of Court
Mr. Smith has been AV® Rated by Martindale-Hubbell® since 1989, the highest possible rating for an attorney for both ethical standards and legal ability, has an Avvo Rating of 9.7 Superb, and in the November, 2016, edition was listed as one of Inland Empire Magazine’s “Top Lawyer’s in the I.E.”
- When Making a Gift or Bequest to a Caregiver, Seniors Must Take Extra Steps to Make Sure its Blessing, Not a Curse. - February 3, 2018, The Valley Business Journal
- California’s “Revocable Transfer on Death Deed” is a New Estate Planning Option for Homeowners Who Wish to Transfer Title to their Homes without Going through Probate - September 1, 2017, The Valley Business Journal
What advice do you most often give your clients & why?
Although the following focuses on bankruptcy, the advice has broad application:
“When faced with problems that threaten your well-being and the financial security of your family and business, how you deal with the accompanying stress will directly affect your ability to overcome the problems, your health, and the state of domestic tranquility your family enjoys at home. The key is to understand the difference between worry and concern. Worry is to be avoided, and concern employed to your benefit.
A worried person is typically stressed out, anxious, and not effectively acting to resolve the problems they are worrying about. Dictionary definitions speak of worry as causing torment, mental distress, agitation, and anxiety which are passively suffered. Concern, on the other hand, is defined as being actively engaged in addressing the matters at hand. It empowers you to address the problems facing you, identify possible solutions which may include bankruptcy or one of its alternative remedies, and then act to implement them.
In my experience, a client who moves from worry to concern reaps immediate rewards in terms of personal well-being and outlook. The problems are still there and may be severe. The solutions may prove imperfect and difficult to implement, but by taking control and acting positively you not only maximize your chances of success, but also regain your sense of dignity and will once again sleep well at night. So, don’t worry - be concerned.”
In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Being able to take on problems that are burdening my clients and causing them stress. I find that by taking the time to explain a situation to them and developing a course of action to be followed, my clients’ stress levels are greatly reduced and they can live with the process of pursuing the case to a conclusion.
How does having experience benefit your clients?
The main benefit is that I have a sense of what will occur in a case, procedurally, substantively, and practically. I use my experience to help my clients understand what to expect and also to better represent them.
What sets you apart from other attorneys? Why is this important?
I take the time to understand my clients’ concerns. When I speak with a prospective client the first thing I ask them is “How can I help you today?” Somewhere in the conversation, I will ask “what is your objective in this matter?” I find that even if they have a problem for which they have no good solution if I have taken the time to listen to them and fully explain the situation they really appreciate my having answered their questions. Over the years I have had good cases referred to me by people who I could do nothing for, but who I had taken the time to sit with and hear them out.
How do you view your role in the attorney-client relationship?
As a trusted advocate and counselor.
What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?
I take the same steps for all cases; understand my clients’ concerns, gather evidence from them, identify parties and witnesses, research the law both for what I don’t know and to update what I do know, and strategize with the other attorneys in our firm. Then prepare as if every matter is going to trial. That way I am ready if it does and I'm better able to resolve it by agreement if possible.
What is a case that you're particularly proud of?
The U.S. Tax Court case of Cato v. Commissioner (1992) 99 T.C. 633 (1992). It is my first reported decision. I was referred this case by an attorney I knew who was the parent of a developmentally disabled child. The Catos owned and operated a “Small Family Home,” which is a class of foster care facilities where they provided long-term care to developmentally disabled children. Initially, they also lived in the home with their own young, growing family. However, to meet state licensing requirements they had to upgrade the small family home, and also purchase a separate home as their family residence. Mr. Cato continued to live on site and operate the facility. A new federal tax law was passed that excluded “foster care income” from the taxable income of a foster care provider, and the Catos properly excluded the foster care payments they received from the state and federal sources from their reported income on their state and federal income tax returns. The IRS disallowed the exclusion of their foster care income, in part because they had another house. The assessments were over $ 100,000.00 in tax, penalties, and interest. Also, the IRS wouldn’t settle because its attorneys viewed them as a test case of firstimpression under the newly enacted law. Had they lost the case it would have financially ruined them, put them out of business, and forced the parents of their residents to find new homes for their children.
The case was not an easy one, but by drawing on my experience in tax law I was able to put forth a winning argument by applying complex tax concepts, rules, and regulations. The Catos are still in business, and from time to time Mr. Cato refers me new matters.
In your opinion, what sets your firm apart from other firms in the area?
We offer good teamwork among experienced attorneys with varied focuses. Cases do not just touch on one area of the law. When we take a matter on, we have the depth of experiences on our team to handle what comes our way. We regularly consult with one another on aspects of each case. The other firms in our locale tend to be focused on narrow areas of the law, such as family law, and have lawyers who tend to be younger and have narrower areas of focus within their firms. We also are experienced with more complex matters of law.
What made you choose a career in law?
I was originally planning on a career in law enforcement because I saw it as a way to help people and during my military service I was a Military Policeman. While I was good at the job, my experiences helped me decide that I did not want to pursue that as a career. Several of my relatives were lawyers and they all seemed to enjoy practicing law. I discussed it with a few of them and, with their encouragement, decided to become a lawyer. I have not been disappointed by my choice. The practice of law has allowed me to meet and work with many wonderful people and protect the interests of my clients, often when they have faced financial ruin. It is a privilege to be able to do so.