||NEWS AND ANALYSIS
COMMENTARY: IS DETROIT’S BANKRUPTCY A BID TO BUST UNIONS?
While Detroit’s bankruptcy has often been portrayed as “a cautionary tale about what can happen when a once great American city is run into the ground by poor leadership and pensions run amok,” Paul Alexander, a former Time reporter who now blogs for the Huffington Post suggests in a commentary that it is “yet another battle between Republicans and public employee unions.” Alexander bases his analysis on the close political ties between Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and conservative donors, including the DeVos family and the Koch brothers, who strongly supported the state’s right-to-work legislation pushed through by Snyder last December. That effort prompted AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka to label Gov. Snyder a "puppet of extreme donors" whose actions "will diminish the voice of every working man and woman in Michigan." According to Alexander, critics contend Snyder believes that police, fire, and city retirees are “unsecured creditors, like bondholders, under U.S. bankruptcy law and aren't exempt from potential cuts.” Those 20,000 retired workers are owed $3.5 billion in pensions and $5.7 billion in health coverage, a significant portion of Detroit’s estimated $18 billion debt. Should they be forced, through bankruptcy, to surrender up to 90 percent of that money, as some union leaders estimate, it would represent, “a devastating blow to organized labor not just in Detroit but across the state and country,” according to Alexander. On September 19, Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes, who is overseeing Detroit’s chapter 9 case, heard 45 of 109 individuals who filed papers to be allowed to speak to the court and explain why the bankruptcy should not be allowed to proceed. After listening to the testimony, which Judge Rhodes characterized as “extraordinary,” he was so moved, Alexander writes, that “he ordered Orr and Governor Snyder, who were not present in court, to listen to a recording of the hearing. ‘I think,’ Rhodes said from the bench, ‘democracy demands nothing less than they personally listen to what the citizens of this city said in this court today.’ ” Click here to read the full commentary.
GAO TO DECIDE QUESTION OF “TOO BIG TO FAIL”
Big banks argue that government subsidies, such as those that limited the meltdown of large financial institutions during fall of 2008 and early 2009, have been curtailed or even eliminated by the Dodd-Frank financial reform act passed in 2010. Now, according to Simon Johnson, writing on the New York Times Economix blog, a forthcoming assessment by the General Accounting Office will pass official judgment on the question. But Johnson suggests that the GAO would do well to look past the opinions of such insider banking groups as the Clearing House Association, and more toward independent researchers; both groups were represented at a conference on “too big to fail” banks last week at New York University. Johnson cites one of the independent papers, which concluded that “large institutions could borrow more cheaply from private lenders, presumably because the implicit government guarantee lowered the credit risk for those firms relative to their smaller competitors. They also find that ‘passage of Dodd-Frank did not eliminate expectations of government support’ — meaning this advantage in credit markets persists in the data.” Another paper found that, “at the peak of the crisis, the risk that the financial sector would collapse as a whole was substantially underpriced relative to the risk of failure of individual financial firms. This may sound technical but it is actually quite profound; it means the markets expected a rescue of some form at the systemwide level.” Johnson concedes that the GAO report could still support the banks’ contention that government subsidies have been eliminated, but includes a cautionary note in the form of an Upton Sinclair quotation: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Read more.
PETTERS FALLOUT ENGULFS TWO POWERHOUSE LAW FIRMS
Bankruptcy Judge Paul G. Hyman, Jr. (S.D.Fl.) has green-lighted a massive Ponzi scheme lawsuit against one of the biggest law firms in the United States, Fulbright & Jaworski, according to an article in yesterday’s South Florida Business Journal. The ruling opens the way for a $718 million malpractice suit by Palm Beach Finance, which claims that Fulbright failed to advise them to file for bankruptcy following the explosion of the Tom Petters Ponzi scheme. The judge may also block Fulbright from recovering the fees it tried to charge Palm Beach Finance, which was heavily tied to Petters’ business. After Petters’ fraud was exposed in October 2008, Palm Beach delayed filing for bankruptcy for more than a year, at which time it had amassed debts of $1 billion. According to the South Florida Business Journal, two Miami powerhouse bankruptcy firms are involved. Michael Budwick of Meland Russin & Budwick represents the fund receiver Barry Mukamal; Scott Baena of Bilzin Sumberg represents Fulbright. Petters, meanwhile, is serving 50 years in prison for running the third-largest Ponzi scheme in the nation. Read more. (Subscription required.)
GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN DELAYS MEDICAL SUPPLIER’S BANKRUPTCY EXIT
As Congress and the White House fitfully discuss ways to avert the country’s debt crisis and end the stalemate that has shuttered the government for more than a week, the shutdown has been blamed for the disruption of a California bankruptcy case. Lawyers for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services persuaded Bankruptcy Judge Mark Wallace on Monday to delay a court hearing that could have allowed a California medical supplier, American Medical Technologies, to get out of chapter 11 protection. In papers filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Ana, Calif., U.S. Department of Justice attorney Seth Shapiro said that CMS employees, furloughed by the government shutdown, are prohibited from working, and thus can’t evaluate AMT’s plan to repay the $76 million that the agency says it’s owed. “It’s not [AMT’s] fault if the government can’t keep its house in order,” said Scotta McFarland, AMT’s attorney, during Monday’s hearing after pointing out that Justice Department attorneys have the power to ask for special permission to keep working on cases. Judge Wallace, who reset the company’s bankruptcy-exit hearing to Nov. 20 from Oct. 21, hinted that he wouldn’t clear the company to leave chapter 11 unless its biggest debts are worked out in a repayment plan. Under AMT’s restructuring plan, the company’s founder and president, Gerald Del Signore, agreed to contribute several million dollars to help the company pay off its debts. Medicare payments make up more than 90 percent of AMT’s revenue. The company filed for chapter 11 protection in February 2012 amid a dispute with a Medicare-payment contractor, which halted payments to AMT during an investigation into whether the company improperly billed for extra wound care supplies. Click here to read the full article. Read more.
NEW FISCAL SURVEY FINDS NATION’S CITIES STRUGGLING, BUT SURVIVING
Pressure from soaring health care and pension costs, coupled with cuts in state and federal aid, are undermining the improving but still shaky financial health of the nation’s cities, according to a report released today, the Washington Post reported. The National League of Cities, which advocates on behalf of 1,700 member cities, said that its annual survey of local finance officers reflects a slowly brightening financial picture for many cities. Still, the survey found that cities continue to suffer the effects of the recent economic downturn, as well as structural problems, that are making it difficult for them to pay for core services such as public safety. The survey found that after six straight years of decline, cities this year reported a small increase in general fund revenues — the locally generated taxes, fees and outside aid that local officials have wide discretion to spend on services from public safety to parks. Sales and income tax revenues are up, but property taxes continue to decline because they typically reflect property values as much as several years before their collections. For cities, that means that their tax revenues are still depressed by the steep drop in property values that accompanied the downturn. Despite the problems, the report finds that few cities are facing the extreme pressure that since 2011 has caused Jefferson County, Ala., Stockton and San Bernardino, Calif., and Detroit to topple into bankruptcy. Overall, nearly three in four of the 350 city finance officers surveyed reported that their cities are better able to meet financial needs in 2013 than they were in 2012. But many also reported that they have been forced to squeeze jobs out of the budget, reduce health care and pension benefits and raise fees, and sometimes taxes, to make ends meet. Read more.
ABI LAUNCHES SIXTH ANNUAL WRITING COMPETITION FOR LAW STUDENTS
Law school students are invited to submit a paper between now and March 4, 2014 for ABI's Sixth Annual Bankruptcy Law Student Writing Competition. ABI will extend a complimentary one-year membership to all students who participate in this year's competition. Eligible submissions should focus on current issues regarding bankruptcy jurisdiction, bankruptcy litigation, or evidence issues in bankruptcy cases or proceedings. The first-place winner, sponsored by Invotex Group, Inc., will receive a cash prize of $2,000 and publication of his or her paper in the ABI Journal. The second-place winner, sponsored by Jenner & Block LLP, will receive a cash prize of $1,250 and publication of his or her paper in an ABI committee newsletter. The third-place winner, sponsored by Thompson & Knight LLP, will receive a cash prize of $750 plus publication of his or her paper in an ABI committee newsletter. For competition participation and submission guidelines, please visit http://papers.abi.org.
FIRST ABIWORKSHOP PROGRAM LOOKS AT RISKY TIMES FOR SECURED LENDERS AND SERVICERS! ATTEND IN PERSON OR VIA LIVE WEBSTREAM
You will not want to miss the abiWorkshops series' inaugural program, "Risky Times for Secured Lenders and Servicers." The program is cosponsored by TMA (Chesapeake), IWIRC (D.C./Greater Maryland) and RMA (Potomac), and will be held on Nov. 6 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET in the ABI Headquarters Conference Center in Alexandria, Va. The abiWorkshops series provides attendees two great ways of participating: You can register to attend in person at the ABI Conference Center, or you can participate via a live webstream! Topics that will be covered on the Nov. 6 program include:
- Living with the New CFPB Mortgage Servicing Rules
- Business Lending: Navigating What Lies Ahead
- Business Lending: Recent Legal Developments
For more information or to register for the "Risky Times for Secured Lenders and Servicers" abiWorkshop on Nov. 6, please click here.
EXPERTS TO EXAMINE STUDENT LENDING AND BANKRUPTCY AT ABI WORKSHOP PROGRAM ON NOV. 15
Experts will tackle the hot topic of student lending issues in bankruptcy on the abiWorkshops series' new program, "You Can't Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy - Or Can You?" The program will be held on Nov. 15 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. ET in the ABI Headquarters Conference Center in Alexandria, Va. The abiWorkshops series provides attendees two great ways of participating: You can register to attend in person at the ABI Conference Center, or you can participate via a live webstream! Topics that will be covered on the Nov. 15 program include:
- Student Lending Today: Who Borrows, How Much, Delinquency & Default Trends
- Repayment Options: Income Based Repayment and New Lender/Servicer Programs
- Litigation under Sect. 523(a)(8): What Proofs Are Needed? Evidence Demonstration
For more information or to register for the "You Can't Discharge Student Loans in Bankruptcy - Or Can You?" abiWorkshop on Nov. 15, please click here.
ABI GOLF TOUR UNDERWAY; LAST STOP FOR 2013 IS WINTER LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE IN DECEMBER
The 7th and final stop for the 2013 ABI Golf Tour is on Dec. 5 at the Trump National Golf Club, held in conjunction with ABI’s Winter Leadership Conference. Final scoring to win the Great American Cup — sponsored by Great American Group — is based on your top three scores from the seven ABI events. See the Tour page for details and course descriptions. The ABI Golf Tour combines networking with fun competition, as golfers "play their own ball." Including your handicap means everyone has an equal chance to compete for the glory of being crowned ABI's top golfer of 2013! A 22-handicapper won the tour event at July’s Southeast Bankruptcy Workshop. There's no charge to register or participate in the Tour.
NEW CASE SUMMARY ON VOLO: ONYEABOR V. CENTENNIAL POINT OWNERS ASSOCIATION (IN RE ONYEABOR) (10TH CIR.)
Summarized by Steven T. Mulligan of Bieging Shapiro & Barber LLP
he circuit court ruled that conversion is appropriate where a plan makes no provision for repayment of pre-petition secured claims, where the debtor’s income is insufficient to support her plan or even the appellees’ judgment lien, and where the debtor fails to address the trustee’s objections.
There are more than 1,000 appellate opinions summarized on Volo, and summaries typically appear within 24 hours of the ruling. Click here regularly to view the latest case summaries on ABI’s Volo website.
NEW ON ABI’S BANKRUPTCY BLOG EXCHANGE: FIFTH CIRCUIT NIXES CONSENT IN STERN CASES
The Bankruptcy Blog Exchange is a free ABI service that tracks more than 80 bankruptcy-related blogs. A recent blog post argues that while the CFTC is on hiatus during the shutdown, the industry should consider the damage that might be done to a market that has become an integral part of banking.
Be sure to check the site several times each day; any time a contributing blog posts a new story, a link to the story will appear on the top. If you have a blog that deals with bankruptcy, or know of a good blog that should be part of the Bankruptcy Exchange, please contact the ABI Web team.
ABI Quick Poll
Does the bankruptcy court's Section 105 power enable it to surcharge the debtor's exempt property?
Click here to vote on this week's Quick Poll. Click here to view the results of previous Quick Polls.
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