S. 454 STATEMENT UPON INTRODUCTION
The following is an excerpt from the Congressional Record, February 24, 1999:
BANKRUPTCY JUDGESHIPS FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
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This bill represents only the most recent of our efforts to strengthen Maryland's federal bankruptcy court. Early in the 105th Congress, we introduced legislation adding two additional bankruptcy judges for the District of Maryland, in line with the then-pending request of the Judicial Conference. The House of Representatives followed suit in summer 1997, passing legislation that authorized these two judges, in addition to other new bankruptcy judgeships throughout the country. Last year, the Senate overwhelmingly passed bankruptcy reform legislation that, among other things, authorized these two judgeships, though under the Senate bill the judges were of temporary, rather than permanent, status. This legislation ultimately was not enacted into law, however, and with such inaction the problem facing Maryland's sitting bankruptcy judges has only grown. Maryland remains without the additional judgeships it so desperately needs to make our bankruptcy system work.
Our State's need for additional bankruptcy judges has long since passed the critical stage. Since November 1993, when Maryland last received an additional bankruptcy judge, the number of bankruptcy filings in the State has more than doubled. While the entire nation has witnessed a surge in bankruptcy filings over the past several years, the increase in Maryland has dwarfed the national average increase. Bankruptcy filings in Maryland in the second quarter of 1998 grew at eight times the national rate of increase for that period; for the 12-month period ending June 30, 1998, the rate of increase in Maryland was the tenth greatest of the 90 federal judicial districts in the Nation. The District of Maryland ranks first among federal judicial districts in filings per judge. As noted earlier, each House of Congress authorized two additional bankruptcy judges for Maryland during the 105th Congress. Simply put, however, the problem has outpaced this solution.
The need for the four additional judgeships sought in this legislation becomes even more evident when one considers it in the context of the case-weighting system adopted by the Judicial Conference in 1991 to assess requests for additional bankruptcy judges. Under this system, different types of bankruptcy cases are assigned different degrees of difficulty and overall weighted case-hour goals are established for the judges.
The Judicial Conference begins to consider requests for additional judges when a district's per-judge weighted caseload reaches 1500 hours. The average United States Bankruptcy Judge had a weighted case-hour load of 1429 hours per year for the 12-month period ending June 30, 1998. For that same period, Maryland's bankruptcy judges averaged a weighted case-hour load of 3020 hours--an astounding 211 percent of the national average. Not only do the Maryland figures dwarf the national average; they also dwarf the prior Maryland figures which led to legislation passed by each Houses of Congress authorizing additional judgeships. Indeed, Maryland's overall weighted case load for the 12-month period ending June 30, 1998, represented a 25% increase over its load for the prior 12-month period alone.
I ask my colleagues to consider these telling statistics:
If Maryland were to receive two additional judgeships tomorrow, its per-judge weighted caseload would still be 2013 hours--41 percent greater than the national average last year, and 34 percent greater than the 1500-hour benchmark used by the Judicial Conference to evaluate requests for additional judgeships.
If Maryland were to receive three additional judgeships tomorrow, its per-judge weighted caseload would still be 1725 hours--21 percent more than the national average, and 15 percent greater than the Judicial Conference benchmark.
Only if Maryland were to receive four additional judgeships, as requested in this bill, would the per-judge caseload in Maryland approximate the national average. And even then each Maryland judge would have a caseload of 1510 case-weighted hours--still above the 1429-hour national average, and still above the 1500-hour Judicial Conference benchmark.
The additional judgeships sought in this bill are essential not only for effective judicial administration, but also for Maryland's economy. Bankruptcy laws foster orderly, constructive relationships between debtors and creditors during times of economic difficulty. Their effective and expeditious implementation results in businesses being reorganized, jobs (provided by creditors and debtors) preserved, and debts managed fairly. Overworked bankruptcy courts have a destabilizing effect on this system, and the inevitable delays occasioned by the lack of judges harm creditors and debtors, imperiling Maryland's businesses and the people they employ.
It is expected that bankruptcy reform legislation will be one of the first items on the Senate's agenda now that it has resumed legislative business. Adding judgeships in Maryland's and other bankruptcy courts in need of relief is an essential component of any such reform, given that the legislation we are contemplating will not only not ease the burdens on these courts, but in fact will increase these burdens by imposing new responsibilities on our nation's bankruptcy judges. And even if comprehensive bankruptcy reform fails or is delayed, the current state of affairs facing Maryland's bankruptcy court requires immediate action in the form of adding judges to that court.
In closing let me once again commend the efforts of Maryland's four sitting bankruptcy judges--Chief Judge Paul Mannes and Judges Duncan Keir, James Schneider, and Steve Derby. Their dedication to the administration of justice is especially impressive given the extraordinary burdens placed on them--burdens which the Senate ought to ease at the earliest possible instance.
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