Written by Craig D. Robins, Esq.
I am currently in San Francisco where I just attended the annual convention of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys (NACBA). I write this report from there on May 1, 2010.
[Note: this article was previously published in the May 2010 edition of the Suffolk Lawyer].
[I will soon post a number of photos that I took at the NACBA convention}
Many years ago I discovered how exciting it is to travel across the country to interact with fellow bankruptcy practitioners and learn the latest about strategies for protecting consumer bankruptcy debtors, and tips for running a bankruptcy law office.
Over the course of three days, some of the country’s leading bankruptcy attorneys as well as a number of bankruptcy judges, provide valuable insight at daily programs and seminars.
What I find just as important is trading notes and war stories with other bankruptcy attorneys from across the country and learning about new products and services at the accompanying trade show.
Here Are Some Highlights of the Bankruptcy Convention
New Trend in Interpreting the Means Test
In a half-day program which addressed the means test, the speakers concluded that both the United States Trustee and our country’s bankruptcy judges have become more lenient in interpreting the means test in Chapter 7 cases. There are three reasons for this trend.
Apparently, the current recessionary climate and sentiment against large banking institutions is resulting in the U.S. Trustee bringing fewer Section 707 motions alleging that the debtor filed an abusive case.
In addition, more and more debtors are providing information to the U.S. Trustee’s office in cases where there are means test issues. This enables the U.S. Trustee to evaluate the issue of abuse and reach a conclusion that the U.S. Trustee should not object.
Finally, there seems to be a greater number of experienced bankruptcy attorneys who know what red flags to look out for and consequently these experienced attorneys refrain from filing abusive cases.
Wide-Spread Concern Over Bankruptcy Judge Salaries
Judicial salaries are relatively low. It appears that we are losing a large number of bankruptcy judges because the level of judicial pay is so low. When there is a vacancy on the bench, this causes the bankruptcy court’s entire case load to slow down, which means unhappiness and dissatisfaction to litigants and all others involved.
This was indeed the case just two three years ago here, in the Eastern District of New York. Our Chief Bankruptcy Judge for the district, Hon. Melanie L. Cyganowski, left the bench to pursue a much more profitable position as a partner in a leading bankruptcy firm.
I interviewed Judge Cyganowski at that time and she clearly indicated that her reason for leaving the bench was because of her unreasonably low judicial salary. See: Chief Bankruptcy Judge Melanie Cyganowski Stepping Down .
HAMP Bankruptcy Update
There was ample discussion about President Obama’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) which seems to be rife with problems as an unusually small percentage of homeowners actually get permanent relief.
a) there is a major lack of communication on the part of the lender;
b) lenders are continuing to threaten homeowners with foreclosure even as the lender is evaluating the homeowner for a modification, and even if the homeowner has been approved for a trial term; and
c) lenders are arbitrary in granting relief.
On a positive note, however, a new law is going into effect on June 1, 2010 that, among other things, makes it illegal for a lender to discriminate against a bankruptcy debtor because he or she is in the HAMP program.
The new law will also provide certain protections to Chapter 13 debtors as mortgagees will be precluded from objecting to discharge.
Lower Prices for Credit Counseling
When the 2005 Bankruptcy Amendment Act first went into effect in 2005, there were only four approved credit counseling agencies in our jurisdiction (E.D.N.Y.), and they all charged the same rate – $50 per credit counseling session.
There must have been about 20 credit counseling companies exhibiting at the trade show and many now charge fees as low as $15 per session.
In addition, they gave out so much shwag that my ten-year-old son, Max , will be delighted to receive from me upon my return a large number of squeeze toys, flashlights, keychains, fancy chocolates, playing cards, puzzles, T-shirts and what-not that I picked up from these exhibitors.
My hard-working office staff will also be the recipient of a good deal of this booty.
Emerging Technologies for Consumer Bankruptcy Practices
One of the most crowded exhibitor booths belonged to a OTB, an company that created BK Express , a comprehensive practice management system which is designed for consumer bankruptcy attorneys.
I actually just set up my office to use this software which is basically a special shell designed to work on top of LexisNexis’s Time Matters system.
Problems with MERS Mortgages and Foreclosure Defenses
In a very dynamic session, we were told that 50% of all residential mortgages in this country are nominally owned by MERS, which is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, a privately held company that operates an electronic registry designed to track servicing rights and ownership of mortgage loans in the United States.
The problem with MERS-recorded mortgages is that MERS really does not own the mortgage, thereby creating an interesting argument that MERS does not have any standing in bankruptcy court.
I previously wrote about special defenses that a homeowner can assert to defend a foreclosure action involving a MERS mortgage. See: A New Powerful Mortgage Foreclosure Defense — Compliments of MERS .
If your client has a MERS mortgage, consider looking at the pooling and service agreement to make sure that there was a true and valid assignment at every link of the chain, including delivery and acceptance of assignment documents. If there was not, you may have a good objection to a MERS proof of claim or motion to lift the stay.
Few Bankruptcy Attorneys From New York
I was rather surprised the very small turn-out from our state. Out of about 1,600 bankruptcy attorneys who attended the convention, there must have been fewer than 20 from New York, and only one other member, I believe, from the Suffolk County Bar Association. That was Allison Shields, who was actually one of the speakers – she spoke on managing a successful bankruptcy practice.