Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Going broke? Join the crowd

One of the few places in Michigan where business is booming these days is the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

The court led the nation in filings for six consecutive quarters since the beginning of 2006 through the end of June this year, Chief Judge Steven Rhodes reported in his "State of the Court" address yesterday.

In a 12-month period ending in June, the court had 31,744 filings.

And the court's judges are working harder than most. Rhodes said his court's judges have a weighted caseload of 3,169 each, compared with a national average of 946.

"Stated another way, in order for us to have the average judge's case load, we would need 16.4 bankruptcy judges in our district!" exclaimed Rhodes.

Help is on the way. Rhodes said he doesn't want to be greedy, so he's asked for three more judges. The Judicial Conference of the United States has signed off on the request, congressional support looks good, and federal administrators have told Rhodes to start looking for a place to put the new judges.

On a dour note, Rhodes said Chapter 7 debtors need to be more forthcoming about disclosing administered assets. Thirty-seven percent are not "fessing up" to all that they have.

Rhodes said proposed amendments to the court's local rules, if adopted, will give trustees and the U.S. Attorney's Office more muscle power to enforce asset disclosure rules.

"[O]ne of our new proposed local rules would require the trustee to file a report whenever the trustee discovers an undisclosed asset after the debtor testifies at the meeting of creditors that the schedules are accurate. Another ... would require the debtor to provide additional documents at the meeting of creditors," Rhodes explained.

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