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Often, tax court S cases are sent to the IRS appeals office before being sent to the IRS lawyers who would prepare for the trial. This happens even if you already went before an appeals officer and didn’t settle your case.
The goal is for an appeals officer to consider settlement.
The IRS lawyers, called district counsel, won’t work on your case file until they know it is not likely to be settled by an appeals officer.
When your case is sent to the appeals office, you’ll be notified. If you don’t settle with the appeals officer or your case isn’t sent there, you will be contacted by the IRS attorney handling your case at least 30 days before the trial.
The attorney will request a meeting at his or her office or by telephone. The attorney wants to discuss the documents and other evidence—both yours and the IRS’s—to be presented in court. He or she will explain how the documents, called exhibits, will be labeled.
The attorney must tell you the names and addresses of any witnesses that may testify. You must do the same. The attorney may even tell you what the witnesses will say.
In addition, the attorney will ask you to agree in writing to any undisputed facts. These are called stipulations, and cover routine things like identification of your tax return, that signatures on various documents are yours, and the accuracy of bank or other records. Tax court judges require parties to stipulate to as many facts as possible before trial. If you agree to certain facts, the lawyer will offer to prepare a joint “Stipulation of Facts” for you to sign.
Any facts not stipulated to must be proven in court.
Ordinarily, you should sign an IRS-prepared Stipulation of Facts. Judges get upset if you waste the court’s time by requiring the IRS to produce witnesses unnecessarily, such as calling a bank records custodian to testify that a certain account is yours.
Occasionally, an IRS attorney may try to slip something by you. If anything appears on the stipulation that you don’t understand, ask the IRS lawyer to explain or delete it. Or see a tax pro for advice before signing.
In general, you don’t have to worry about this meeting. The IRS attorney isn’t likely to raise new issues, make threats, or try to trap you into saying something harmful to your case.
The IRS attorney may not say so, but would probably like to settle the case, rather than go to trial. It is less work for the IRS.
Consider the meeting with the lawyer as a final opportunity to make a deal. Present your case as if the attorney were an auditor or appeals officer. Stress any new reasons for the IRS to compromise.
Maybe you located new documents or witnesses. Maybe you’ll have better luck with the IRS attorney than the appeals officer.
Remember that most cases settle before the trial. The IRS lawyer might turn you down now, but later change stance. You and the IRS lawyer can settle the case at any time. As the trial date approaches, the IRS lawyer may conclude that you have a better chance to win than they first thought. Perhaps a government witness is not available or a key IRS document is lost.
If you make a deal, the IRS will prepare something called a stipulated tax court decision. You, the IRS attorney, and the judge must sign it.
It is a technical document, so if you don’t understand it, before signing, ask that the lawyer explain it to you or have it reviewed by your tax pro. Once you sign the stipulated tax court decision, it will be nearly impossible to back out of the deal.
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