Question received today from LawGuru:
“I sold my house in an short sale and now the bank wants me to repay the $60,000 shortfall. Should I file bankruptcy? …”
I find myself looking at a 32 page report, complete with colorful graphs and charts, written by a gentleman by the name of Michael Simkovic. Mr. Simkovic was a fellow in law and economics at Harvard Law School between 2006 and 2007. He published this report last July. His subject is the effect of the 2005 “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act.” Many of us call that BAPCPA (pronounced “bapceepa“).
The report begins by reminding us that supporters had claimed that ultimately this law would benefit consumers, because it would lower the cost of credit card debt. The data shows, however, that while credit card company losses decreased, and the card companies had record profits, costs to consumers actually increased. “In other words,” says Mr. Simkovic, “the 2005 bankruptcy reform profited credit card companies at consumers’ expense.”
No big surprise there. But thanks to Mr. Simkovic for laying out the details and proving it beyond a reasonable doubt. This seems to be very consistent with a series of articles published in the Star Tribune last October which stated, among other things, that BAPCPA has been one of the contributors to our current economic meltdown.
Before I was licensed to practice law, I was licensed to teach history. Like everyone else in this country, I have been watching the attention being given to the ritual unfolding in Washington, D.C. A lot of attention is being given to various details of the event. Underlying it all, however, is a tradition that I haven’t seen anybody say anything about; and this tradition is something that we should give ourselves much more credit for than we do.
The tradition I’m talking about is that every four years, or at the least every eight, we have a peaceful regime change in Washington. It’s been going on for over 230 years. The old president steps down and a new guy takes over, without troops having to be called in, without an assassination, without brown shirts taking over the TV and radio stations, without a civil war. I believe if a study were to be done of the subject, going back say three hundred years, and covering the entire globe, it would be found that in the vast majority of places during the vast majority of the time, regimes don’t change without somebody getting killed or something being blown up.
So lets all enjoy the party, and let’s all be very proud. Notwithstanding all the imperfections, nobody else and nowhere else has anybody come this close to getting it right.
Godaddy is the server that hosts my web pages. I don’t know what their problem was, but for several hours today all my web pages were down and not accessible. Whatever the problem was, it’s fixed now and everything is back up.
If you were tying to view one of my web pages and could not, it wasn’t something wrong with your computer. It was the company that hosts my sites. My apologies for the inconvenience.
The thing I noticed that sort of surprises me is how much I missed the pages myself. They contain all sorts of charts, tables and reference materials that I use regularly. One of the reasons I have for posting all the material that I have up on my various pages is so that I can find it myself when I need it.
Friday night this past weekend and again on Saturday night, between 12:30 am and about 3:30 am, I was awakened by calls from individuals who had been arrested for DWI and who were in the custody of police. Before being required to take a breath, blood or urine test, a suspect has a right to speak with a lawyer by telephone. In both cases, the arrested person had called someone else who looked up my DWI web site and then passed my cell number back to the person under arrest.
Often when I receive these calls I find that the person on the other end of the phone is seriously considering refusing to take the test that is being offered. This is a serious mistake, since a test refusal is a separate crime in itself. Besides being a crime, the test refusal carries with it a one year revocation of one’s driving license. So far I have always recommended that the person take the test. It is hard for me to imagine a situation when I would not recommend that.
When I receive one of these calls, I try to find out as much information about the arrest as I can. Sometimes this can involve staying on the phone with the “suspect” for as long as half an hour or so. The result is that often I know things about what went on that the police report may not include and that the potential client may not remember.
Usually after receiving one of these calls I can’t sleep for about an hour, maybe longer. I’ll admit that having this two nights in a row was a tad hard on me. If this seems a little disjointed, that’s probably why.
Friday morning – yesterday – I was instructed to report to the jury room at the Hennepin County Government Center for jury duty. After listening to a little talk about how things worked, twenty of us were run through security and led up to judge McGunnigle’s courtroom. As soon as I walked in I knew I would not be there very long. At the tables in the front of the courtroom sat two lawyers I knew, Rolph Sponheim for the prosecution and Marsh Halberg for the defense. These were both people I know, particularly Mr. Sponheim. Judge McGunnigle explained that the Defendant had been charged with a DWI. He didn’t say whether it was a misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony. I could tell that it was no misdemeanor, however, since they were obviously looking to set up a jury of twelve, and with a misdemeanor you only get a jury of six.
I was seated as Juror No. 3. The judge started asking questions to the prospective jurors as a group. One question was whether any of us had an experience which would influence our ability to be objective in this type of case – driving while intoxicated. Several hands went up, including mine. One person was employed in the “beverage industry.” One person has a brother who had been arrested for DWI. Another had relatives who were injured in an accident by a drunk driver. I disclosed that I had defended hundreds of this type of case, and it would be hard to say that this would not influence my decision.
The judge went into a little lecture about how experiences of this sort should be set aside and compartmentalized, and he asked if we could do that. All of those who had raised our hands, including me, said that we thought we could. One of the next questions was whether we knew any of the witnesses, whose names were read off for us, and did we know the Defendant or any of the lawyers. Again, I raised my hand. The judge asked me to explain. I said that I knew Mr. Halberg, not well but I did know him. Besides that, the younger lawyer he had brought along to assist him looked familiar, I had surely seen him around, although I did not know him by name. When it came to Mr. Sponheim, I said I thought I knew him well. I had innumerable cases in which he had been the prosecutor. Then Judge McGunnigle asked if knowing these people would keep me from being able to make a decision based only on the evidence which was to be presented. I said that I believed I have a working relationship with Mr. Sponheim, and that I thought that should disqualify me.
At this point the judge called the lawyers up to the bench for a little conference. A moment later I was excused from that case, but I was to report back to the jury room. Back at the jury room the clerk there said that since I had been on call all week, that I would be excused entirely from any further jury duty. My duty was completed. Must say I was a bit surprised but also relieved. I had another feeling, however, which surprised me. During the short time that I had been up in the courtroom, I had started getting interested in the case. I think I would have enjoyed being on that jury. I would have enjoyed watching those lawyers do their stuff, and I would have liked to see how it all came out.
The thought of going downtown to watch the trial just to see what happens next has occurred to me. They are open to the public, and a trial like that ought to take a couple of days at the least. I already feel behind in my work as a result of the distraction from this episode, however, and I know I don’t really have the time to go watch that trial. I should just count myself lucky to have this experience behind me.
Tomorrow, Monday December 29, 2008, is supposed to be the first day of my jury duty with Hennepin County. I just checked with the phone line, and they will not be needing me – at least not tomorrow morning. So for those of you who have had an appointment with me in the morning, I’ll be planning on being there.
The next time I have to check to see if they want me will be 12:15 pm tomorrow afternoon. I am supposed to call in and see if they need me for Monday afternoon. This annoying process will continue for the next two weeks or so. This has meant that I have had to be careful to not be scheduling any court appearances for any of my own cases with my own clients over the next two weeks. Over the past three months or so, I have been making an effort to schedule hearings on all of my cases before Christmas, so that I would have an open schedule now. This made for a dramatically busy December. With that rush over, it seems a bit quiet now; except that I am on call to run downtown and report as a juror to hear a trial.
I’ll be reporting more as this unfolds.
The electronic sign over I-394 just a half mile here from my office says “Enhanced DWI Enforcement Thru Jan 1.” I don’t think they’re kidding.
“Enhanced” according to the old hard-bound dictionary on my desk means “to make greater” or to raise, intensify or heighten. It seems to be a term that is used a lot in connection with DWI. For example, if you have a second offense within ten years, that second offense is “enhanced” because of the first. Please remember that taxi cabs are really cheap compared to the cost of being arrested.
As I think I have mentioned earlier, I am noticing that the fact that one is considering or working on filing a bankruptcy seems to enhance to possibility of either being arrested for DWI or being injured in a serious accident. If you should happen to have bankruptcy on your mind, please keep a proper perspective. Focus on what you are doing, when you are doing it. It’s only money. You have more reason now than ever to properly care for yourself – including making sure that whatever you consume is in moderation.
Twas the day before Christmas, and my phone has finally quit the constant ringing. Yesterday was another story. Even that close to the holiday, there were lots of interruptions. To all who may be reading this, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah. I am going to make an effort for at least the next 48 hours to enjoy these holidays. It’s not that easy after all the sad stories I have been hearing. It is nonetheless my intent to do so.
I think that I still have somewhere within me a little bit of the wonder that was there when I was a small child surrounded by all the holiday hoopla and regalia, expecting a visit from Santa Claus. It’s not that I still believe in Santa Claus; but except for the scene in Miracle on 34th Street, he’s never been accorded his right to a trial by jury. Even in that movie if I recall correctly, the judge dismissed the charges without letting the jury make a decision. It seems to me that Santa Claus should be accorded the presumption of existence until proven to not exist beyond a reasonable doubt. I don’t really believe, but I have to admit that he has not ever been proven to not exist beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s a tough standard, and it has not been met. In fact, any student of logic will tell you that it is impossible to prove a negative. Thus it is a safe bet that Santa’s nonexistence can never and will never be proven – at least not with evidence that’s admissible in court.
I just checked the NORAD web site, where there is a special page for tracking Santa. In fact at the moment I am writing this NORAD says they have Santa on radar over Dhaka, Bangladesh. Looks real to me, or at least I can’t prove it’s not.
I have received a summons to show up for jury duty on December 29th — downtown at the Hennepin County Government Center. The people who run the program tell me that I can arrange to check in by telephone to see if they need me. This apparently, however, can only be done after I at least show up in person on the first day.
Not long ago I commented to one of the court clerks that I supposed that the week of New Years Eve and New Years Day would be a slow week for jury trials. She laughed at me and said the opposite was the case. Apparently that week is loaded up with jury trials by people who didn’t want to have the trial Christmas week.
When I first received the summons I called in and got a hold of one of the supervisors. I had lots of excuses, not the least of which was that I have served as a referee in the Hennepin County settlement and arbitration programs. I have worn a black robe, sat at the big desk in front of the courtroom and have been called “your honor.” “So what”‘ was the response. They have required retired district court judges to serve. There is an exception for judges who are actually on duty as judges, but that of course would not apply to me.
I anticipate having more to say on this topic as the situation unfolds.