Seems I was quoted in an article in yesterday’s Sunday Pioneer Press. The topic was a process called lien stripping. It involves taking a second mortgage in a Chapter 13 case and throwing it in with the unsecured debts. The second mortgage gets treated as if it were a big credit card instead of a mortgage. At least in theory, at the end of the Chapter 13 payment plan, the mortgage is then just gone. This can only be done in a case where the value of the homestead is less than the balance owing on the first mortgage. The bankruptcy court is asked to treat that second mortgage as if it was unsecured, because as a practical matter there is no security.
I say “in theory” in the above paragraph because the situation is that this process is so new – at least here in Minnesota – that nobody knows quite for sure exactly how it should be done. That is still being worked out. For one thing, the case (Fisette) which says we can do it is being appealed. I don’t expect it to be overturned, but that could happen. For another thing, nobody knows for sure how to clear the title of the second mortgage. The mortgage can be gone as a matter of bankruptcy law, but still be a problem as a matter of real estate law. Real estate law is as if it’s on a different planet than bankruptcy law – maybe in a different solar system. There’s a need for adjustments between the two legal systems before lien stripping can be expected to go smoothly. While those adjustments might be in process, they are certainly not completed at this time.
The whole thing is a bit too up in the air for me, and so far I have been reluctant to try doing any of this. I have been explaining it as a possible option, and I have been referring people who are interested to some of the lawyers who have been doing them – such as Mr. Theisen and Mr. Andresen. People like them should be given credit for having the gumption to push for this, particularly Craig Andresen who is the one who has the case on appeal.
This is a developing area and I’m sure to have more to say about it later.
You might find it hard to get a hold of me today. I’ll be in classes all day at the Bankruptcy Institute. This is an annual event sponsored by the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Minnesota Continuing Legal Education. I was here all day yesterday too.
The highlights yesterday for me were the case law update and the session on “Advanced Chapter 13 Plan Drafting.” Another good session was the one on business owner bankruptcies. Today so far the best thing has been a joke one of the presenting judges just told: something about how what a judge needs is grey hair so he looks serious and hemorrhoids so he looks concerned.
At least that would be the general rule. All rules of course have exceptions.
I just spoke by phone with a person who needs a bankruptcy. The trouble is that he or she is the owner of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It’s not paid for. There’s still a loan on the bike with a monthly payment. The usual story in that situation is that if you want to file a bankruptcy – any kind of bankruptcy – the bike has to go. Sell it or surrender it, but it has to go before we can file.
Most of the time when I explain this to the owner of a Harley, it’s the last I hear from that person.
I just spent a very quiet and peaceful weekend at a campground in southern Minnesota. I found that there happened to be a group of over 100 bikers there, mostly if not all riding Harley-Davidsons. I barely noticed them. They partied and carried on, but in a quiet and respectful way. In fact they were some of the most well behaved people I’ve ever seen. I learned later that they were a group of retired police officers, some from Minnesota and some from Chicago. Most of them were dressed in typical biker attire, including jackets and hats bearing one or more variation of the Harley-Davidson logo. Those bikes were obviously an important part of their social life.
Powerful attachment to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is a phenomenon I’ve seen repeatedly. Often as with the retired cops it can be a really good thing. But I can’t change the way the bankruptcy trustees view these things. In a bankruptcy case, unless it’s paid for and so old that it’s not worth much, a Harley tends to be an asset that they want to seize or a frivolous expense that they won’t allow or both. It’s just not a good thing for anybody contemplating bankruptcy.
I took a look this morning at a news digest from the Minnesota State Bar Association. A story that caught my eye was full of charts and graphs comparing the number of lawyers admitted to the bar to practice law compared with the number of job openings. You can see the full story at economicmodeling.com
For the year 2010 Minnesota had a lawyer surplus of 510, according to the article. Only New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Maryland Connecticut, and North Carolina had bigger surpluses. The nation as a whole had a lawyer surplus of $27,269.
Interesting enough, our neighbor Wisconsin actually had a lawyer deficit of 14. In other words, Wisconsin had 14 more job openings than there were new lawyers to fill them. The only other state with a deficit was Nebraska. Nebraska’s deficit was only three, however; pretty close to break even.
Whenever I get a call from my Alma mater, the University of Minnesota Law School, asking for a financial donation, I have had to ask myself whether I feel that Minnesota really needs more lawyers. The answer to that question for me has always been in the negative. This article seems to confirm that.
I was at the Federal Courthouse in Minneapolis last Thursday for a meeting of creditors. The room was full and I was planning for a long wait with my client.
To my surprise the trustee – who is the person who runs such proceedings – stood up and asked two apparently married couples to leave. These individuals were there without a lawyer and were obviously pro se – or in other words representing themselves. From the words that were exchanged it sounded as if they had gone to some sort of a non-lawyer document preparation service.
Apparently whoever they had gone to had neglected to tell them that they were supposed to provide a copy of their most recent tax return to the trustee well in advance of the date of the meeting of creditors.
I expect that those parties will be allowed to provide their tax returns to the trustee and reschedule their meeting of creditors – which those who know me know I often call the “hearing,” because that word is a good one to describe what happens. I can’t help but wonder what else might be wrong with those bankruptcy filings.
I’ve been concerned for some time that some of these document preparation outfits are dangerous. If you search this blog I believe you’ll find something from a while back where I was carrying on about such a service located in India which had contacted me and wanted to essentially use my name.
My wife Karen, our two dogs Ben and Jerry and I went camping this past weekend at Jay Cooke State Park just south of Duluth. We were minding our own business Saturday morning. I was drinking coffee and having some Cheerios. Ben and Jerry had taken up residence on Karen’s lap. Then along came a crew from WDIO TV Channel 10 in Duluth.
They were interviewing folks on the subject of the impending state park shutdown – a side effect of the impending state government shutdown. The story was their lead story on the 10 pm news that night. The video is posted at the WDIO web site. The TV guys spent several hours at the park that day, but the story is edited down to two minutes.
Here’s a link to the video if you would like to watch
I have been reading a discussion this morning on a bankruptcy lawyer listserve. The topic which has captured my attention is how badly some of the document preparation services can fowl up a bankruptcy case. It is not unusual to be told his or her fee is too high; and then a few months later that same person, who filed using a document preparation service, is back asking to have something fixed.
My policy has been that I don’t like to jump in and try to fix something that someone else has screwed up. I fear the risk of malpractice for one thing. Although someone else broke it, once I start trying to fix it the responsibility could rub off on me. I did recently, however, give in to a plea to help with the amendment of some documents. I’m soft hearted, it looked like a simple problem to fix, but I probably still should not have. The case could have had other problems besides the one I was asked to help with. Then what?
Beware of anyone who tells you: There’s nothing involved but filling out a bunch of forms, only takes a few minutes, no need to waste valuable money and time.
During my first meeting with a new potential client, it’s not unusual for that person’s cell phone to be ringing repeatedly. Usually it’s call after call from bill collectors or collection agencies. Once we get a bankruptcy case filed, most such calls will slow down and then finally stop within a few days. This is because of what is technically called the “automatic stay” – a court order issued as soon as a bankruptcy case is filed which tells all the creditors to leave the debtor alone and to stop all collection efforts. I tell my clients to let me know if a creditor doesn’t seem to have gotten the word about the bankruptcy. It might be that there’s a creditor that wasn’t listed and that needs to be added to the creditor list.
Lately, however, I’ve been hearing from my clients about harassment which they are receiving from sources other than bill collectors. For one thing, there are disreputable credit counseling services which are sending out advertising disguised to look like letters from a bill collector. A client faxed me one not long ago, and it had me fooled. It certainly looked like something from a creditor to me. In fact it looked like a notice that the creditor had scheduled an arbitration hearing. I thought it needed immediate attention, so I called the number on the “Debt Mediation Notice.” I told them about the bankruptcy and asked them which creditor they represented. To my surprise they told me that they were a debt settlement service and they didn’t represent anybody. They weren’t trying to collect a debt. They wanted to help my client settle his debts, which obviously was not possible since a bankruptcy had already been filed.
So now when you go in debt apparently one can expect to be harassed not only by creditors, but by businesses that market their services to those who are in financial distress. I find such marketing to be a despicable practice, particularly when it is misleading. Since I saw that “Debt Mediation Notice,” I have been wondering how such organizations would get information on who is in financial trouble. I believe that this afternoon I may have received some insight on that.
I have just received two emails from an outfit that is offering to send out junk mail on my behalf which would be addressed to “homeowners in your area that are 60 or 90 days late on their mortgage payment and/or with late credit card debt balances of $20,000 or more.” They don’t say where they are getting the mailing list for that, but my best guess would be that there must be a credit reporting agency which is selling that information. If that’s legal, somebody ought to pass a law making it illegal.
Filing a bankruptcy only stops the stuff coming in from creditors and bill collectors. Other materials intended for the financially distressed are not affected. Another thing that’s not affected is junk mail from agencies that do the post-bankruptcy-filing counseling. Before filing a case I usually have my client signed up for the required counseling program, but this doesn’t stop aggressive and misleading mail advertising those counseling agencies. Some of the materials contain statements to the effect that the bankruptcy will be dismissed if the counseling is not completed. There may be some truth in that, but the counseling doesn’t have to be done with the outfits that are mailing out that sort of thing. I’ve had some clients get pretty upset upon receiving some of these materials, particularly elderly clients who aren’t used to how misleading some things can be.
So I have deleted those emails which offered to do a mass mailing for me to people who are in financial trouble. I would suggest that if you receive anything like that from one of my fellow lawyers, definitely don’t call that person. Run the other way.