By: Adrianna R. Grancio
St. John’s Law Student
American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review Staff
Recently, in In re Asarco,[i] the Fifth Circuit held that a bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion in authorizing fee enhancements to two law firms representing a chapter 11 debtor in connection with their remarkably successful fraudulent transfer litigation.[ii] The Fifth Circuit also agreed with the lower court decision in rejecting compensation for the defense of fee applications[iii]. In In re Asarco, Baker Botts L.L.P. (“Baker Botts”) and Jordan, Hyden, Womble, Culbreth & Holzer, P.C. (“Jordan Hyden”) served as debtor’s counsel to the chapter 11 debtor and helped the debtor confirm a plan that paid creditors in full[iv]. In connection with that representation, Baker Botts and Jorden Hyden successfully prosecuted complex fraudulent transfer claims against the debtor’s parent corporation resulting in an unprecedented judgment valued at between $7 and $10 billion.[v] While Baker Botts and Jordan Hyden were compensated pursuant to section 330(a) of the Bankruptcy Code, the bankruptcy court authorized a twenty percent fee enhancement for Baker Botts and a ten percent fee enhancement for Jordan Hyden.[vi] The bankruptcy court based the authorization of the fee enhancements on the “rare and exceptional” performance of the firms in successfully prosecuting a multi-billion dollar fraudulent conveyance action and the fact that the rates charged by Baker Botts were roughly twenty percent below market rate.[vii] On appeal to the district court, the fee enhancements were affirmed.[viii] After the parent corporation appealed again, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s authorization of the fee enhancements.[ix] Further, the Fifth Circuit, ruling in line with the Eleventh Circuit[x] held that based on the plain meaning reading of Section 330(a) compensation for the cost counsel or professionals incur in defending fee applications is not permissible.