When Life Gives You Cucumbers…

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Day-to-day operations in a typical law office are much more tedious than television would have you believe. It’s a lot of paperwork. “CYA letters,” creating paper trails are a must.

As I often do, I recently had a conversation with a client in which I reminded her about some documents I needed her to provide me. Of course, as all attorneys know, if there’s no paper trail, the conversation never happened. So naturally I had to draft a reminder letter to my client, reminding her again about our reminder conversation we just had.

With our deadline for these documents quickly approaching, you can imagine the relief I felt when I saw a handwritten envelope addressed to me from this particular client in my mailbox. I opened the letter, expecting a reply. Instead, I found a grocery list. That’s all – just a grocery list. It included cucumbers and some other items whose spelling made me guess. But it clearly was not a federal or state income tax return.

This incident got me thinking about what other interesting mail I have received over the years. On the positive side, I get thank you cards. One time a satisfied client even baked me some tasty brownies and sent them in a FedEx box. (I would not have eaten them if they were from a disgruntled former client!) On the stranger side, I have received a cardboard diagram complete with dozens of pills glued to it from a client wishing to help me visualize what medications she took. The street value of the painkillers probably was significant, but my boss at the time made me flush this correspondence. Back in the pre-camera phone days, another client took the time to photograph, develop and snail mail me a pic of a toilet full of neon orange urine, so I could better understand the side effects of some anti-psychotic meds. You can imagine my elation when I opened that letter.

They say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” What the heck are you supposed to make when life gives you cucumbers? Pickles, I guess. And this grocery list had suddenly put me into quite a pickle of a situation. Our already-extended deadline was approaching, and opposing counsel was accusing my client and I of stalling.

A normal person would see this list and give the client the benefit of the doubt. Simple mistake, right? But I’m not a normal person. I’m a lawyer, damn it! We are an industry that divides the world into “lawyers” and “non-lawyers.” Furthermore, I certainly do not deal with anything close to normal people when it comes to opposing counsel.

How do you inform a client that a grocery list is not a satisfactory substitute for income verification? How do you tell opposing counsel that you need more time, because your client has been delayed in the produce department? None of this was covered in law school. There’s no continuing education course on this subject either. I’ve checked. It does not exist.

When in doubt, you Bill-Clinton it. Yes, I have made our former president into a verb. But whenever I use this expression, people instantly know what I mean. You find a way to squeeze an acceptable droplet of truth out of a convoluted mess and share that tiny snapshot of an explanation with the key players in your case. You do this in a way to avoid your client accusing you of accusing her of being absent-minded and in a way that keeps opposing counsel from pursuing the nuclear option of contempt of court.

In short, life as a lawyer is a constant juggling act. Sometimes you get thrown an extra bowling pin to juggle. Other times it’s a cucumber or chainsaw. You just need to continue riding that unicycle and keep all the balls in the air.

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Those rules don’t apply to me. I’m white.

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Through my work and the experiences of my clients, I am constantly reminded what a privilege it is to be a tall, blue-eyed, blond man in his 30’s. It is completely remarkable how many people take for granted what sorts of opportunities are bestowed upon them simply because of their physical appearance. It probably does not hurt that I can afford to dress in business attire, I keep a short haircut, and I was fortunate to receive an education that allows me to present myself as confident and articulate.

Very early one morning last week, I was rushing to get to a court appearance on the other side of town. “Town” is Detroit, where “other side” means a full county away. Sometimes this can take hours. I was groggy. My mind was preparing questions for cross-examination of the prosecution’s witnesses and objections to evidence I anticipated the prosecutor would try to submit. This mental exercise was looping in the back of my mind as I artfully dodged the first potholes of spring and listened to a morning news program on the radio.

Next the low fuel light came on. It was another distraction but also an opportunity to grab some much-needed coffee. I arrived at the gas station near my office, parked at the pump, took a mental snapshot of the pump number to give the clerk, and went inside to perform my usual morning ritual. Music was playing inside the busy store, which was bustling with commuters. Only one clerk was working, and he was going back and forth between fuel purchases at one register and lottery ticket sales at another. He seemed stressed. His English skills were limited. The other customers were bumping into me. I had to get out of line to grab some napkins and dab up coffee that spilled on my coat.

As I was paying, I ran a mental check of my available credit and pending credit card transactions for my account versus the small bills in my wallet and the need for a certain amount cash for parking later that day. I debated whether to use cash for the fuel price discount. Ultimately, I swiped my credit card. My smart phone started to buzz with alerts. Yes, iPhone Calendar, I know I have to be in court in exactly one hour. Delete. Next a reply to a text from my assistant. I’ve already been to the office. No need to brew coffee, but thank you. And into my car to race to court.

Ten minutes later another alert. This one a dinging sound from my dashboard. Low fuel. “How is that possible?” I thought. “I just put in $20.” But I didn’t. In all of the chaos, I made a mistake. I did not commit a crime. However, I did make an honest mistake in a confusing situation. But I’m a white man, and fortunately more often than not I am given a pass when I make honest mistakes in confusing situations. As I have learned through decades of working in law offices, the same thing is not always true for people of color.

Ironically, I was on my way to a court appearance involving a mistake at a gas station. My client is a black man. He and his wife together earn a six-figure household income. Like me, he dresses for work in a very respectable way. But this incident happened at nighttime when he was in casual clothes. This incident happened with another immigrant store clerk who has limited English skills. But it happened in a predominantly white suburb that neighbors some predominantly black, low-income communities. My client’s “look” immediately made him seem out of place amid the other customers of that bustling gas station.

Unlike the stressed but friendly worker I encountered at my gas station where I had spilled coffee, my client encountered a stressed and hostile worker. The clerk actually shook his carbonated beverage purchase and told him it would “make it taste better, buddy.” I was offered napkins. My client was given insults.

Unlike my situation, where I was confused and made a mistake that was not a crime, my client’s mistake got a completely different reaction. During an argument that boiled over, my client was physically attacked, cash that fell from his pocket was stolen, and he was later charged with a crime. Not just any crime: a felony with a maximum sentence of life in prison.

He did the right thing. He hired an attorney. He can afford to do that. He did not attempt to negotiate with the police department detective or the prosecuting attorney the way some people who were “just confused” or “trying to do the right thing” often do. But over the next few months of litigation, his finances, his relationship, and his job are all going to be impacted while the specter of a criminal charge hovers over him.

As for me, I’m out twenty bucks. I’m still a white guy. And I do not take that privilege for granted.

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The Globe Trotting Lawyer

Running into an attorney colleague at court is not unusual. But whenever I hear one particular solo practitioner friend’s distinct voice coming from somewhere within a crowded court hallway, I smile and think, I wonder what part of the world she’s just returned from. 

I met Elaine early in my solo career when she posted an ad for some independent contract work, or court coverage as we call it in the industry. She was going on an exotic vacation with her husband and children and needed an attorney to manage her court appearances while she was gone. If memory serves me right, it was a 2-week bicycling trip across Cambodia. 

Now further advanced in my career, with employees of my own, I have the means to travel too. So our annual encounters are not simply limited to me hearing about a sea cruise to the Antarctic or an ice hotel stay in Scandanavia. I get to share my adventures too. This time I had just returned from Paris. Amateur hour for a seasoned traveler like my colleague, but still a respectable trip. “I’m trying to make a point to take one minor and one major trip each year,” I explained. “Oh, was Paris the minor trip?” Ah, yes. I was quickly reminded that I am still a beginner at this globe trotting lawyer lifestyle. No, the minor trip was a conference in Las Vegas that doubled as a work expense. 

Later, over cocktails, another attorney friend asked me about my travels. “If you could live in any of the places you have been to, which one would you pick?” Exhausted from a grueling 6-day work week I had only completed moments earlier, I replied “I don’t know. I hate them all.” As soon as the words were spoken, I realized I sounded like a spoiled brat. My dear friend had to invest more planning into work scheduling and child care arrangements in order to meet me for drinks than I had spent booking my upcoming trip to the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan. 

In the past few years, I have ridden in lake boats and prayed in Buddhist temples in China. I have driven a car in rush hour traffic in Tokyo and tied a handwritten wish on a wooden block to a tree branch at a Shinto shrine. I have sipped absinthe in historic bars and discussed literature (in French) with Parisians while exploring Le Marais. I discovered I can fake my way through Dutch language proficiency adequately enough to not only catch a train to Amsterdam but even give directions to confused Italian tourists. I have climbed pyramids in Mexico and bar hopped in South Beach and Vegas. I dove off a cliff into the Pacific and swam under a waterfall in Hawaii. Further back, I enjoyed cocktails in Hemingway’s favorite hangouts in Havana. I traveled to countries in Eastern Europe that no longer exist, watching street names change daily and statues of former heroes pulled down to be replaced by McDonald’s and Starbucks signs. Why do I hate these places?

The simple answer is that as attorneys, we are never expected to take vacations. Tell a judge you need to reschedule a court date because a vacation? You’re not going to get any sympathy. Not “good cause,” counselor. Your assistant explains to your client that you’re out of the office and not going to return their call today because you are on a beach? That client is convinced you’ve embezzled their money and neglected their case. Expect a negative online review, a request for investigation from the Attorney Grievance Commission, an email firing you and demanding an immediate refund, and a condescending call from another lawyer who claims he’s just been hired to replace you. 

So here is how I vacation. I never take a trip longer than 4 days. 2 of those days will be a Saturday and Sunday. I keep a cell phone on me as much as possible (the FAA does impose some limits on use) and try to find wifi whenever and wherever I can. This helps a little in juggling the average 500 incoming emails I have to respond to each day. Scott is not “on vacation.” He is “out of the office.” 

One night, around 3:00 a.m. Tokyo time, I found a rental cell phone (American SIM cards don’t work in Japan) and managed to stop an illegal eviction of my client’s business from his commercial property. Court officers had stormed the shop and were pulling merchandise from the shelves to throw into a dumpster. Calling my office, the court, opposing counsel, the court officer’s cell phone, and my client, I got it to stop. But no one knew I was doing all of this from one day in the future in Asia, forfeiting my sleep for the benefit of the client. These events happen each time I travel. As a result, my pleasant travel experience memories seem to get blurred by my memories of remote resolution of one crisis after another. I have gotten better at contingency planning for everything from client emergencies to volcanic eruptions and swine flu pandemics. 

So you may think it’s boring that my favorite cities are Chicago and Montreal. Well, that’s probably as much to do with my love of each place as it is with the fact they have reliable wifi and cellular service and are easy to return from in a premature rush when the shit hits the fan back at the office. Next stop: Tulum. 

 

 

 

 

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Surviving law school

Two things happened this past month to make me reminisce about my law school days. First, my law clerk has earned his Juris Doctor and begun studying for the Bar Exam. Second, I moved to a new home for the first time in over a decade and spent some time going through boxes of old photos and mementos.

Friends describe my venture into Detroit in the 90’s as being an urban pioneer of sorts. White people fled the city en masse about 30 years earlier after the race riots. Middle class minority families followed in the 70’s and 80’s. Once the epicenter of technological innovation and the American dream, Detroit had become the nation’s murder capital and lost over 50% of its population to the suburbs and to other states. The violence in the city was pathological at times. A week before I became a Detroiter, a woman was pulled from her car, beaten and chased by another driver until she jumped into the Detroit River and drowned after being involved in a minor traffic accident on the bridge to Belle Isle Park.

But, wait. I was from the mean streets of Flint, Michigan. Home of Michael Moore of Roger & Me fame. Another murderous, violent, down and out city. I had lived in a lower income, diverse neighborhood. I had survived. Certainly I was tough enough for Detroit, right?

There are plenty of challenges your first year of law school – some academic, some cultural. During orientation, the dean asked students in my entering class to raise their hand if they have at least one family member who is an attorney. “Keep your hand raised if you have 2…” And so on. I was amazed how long my classmates held their hands up, as I sat in my alphabetically-assigned space in the back row, a hopeful first generation lawyer in the making. These people had first-hand accounts from parents, siblings, and cousins of what to expect in law school. I was clueless and about to have my ego knocked down substantially. I would learn I was never as smart as my confidence levels in high school and undergraduate classrooms previously led me to believe.

I was equally astonished that no one seemed to use the financial aid office. While I piled on loans that would follow me for decades in order to finance books and tuition, my classmates transferred payments from their trust funds. I arrived for class driving what we called a hoopty in the 90’s. A broken down Oldsmobile with missing hubcaps. My fellow students roared into the parking lot in gleaming new BMW’s and Mercedes.

A trip to the bookstore felt more like a trip to Uhaul. You got loaded up with boxes of books. Far more than you ever thought you could possibly read in 3 months. The books were full of musty old cases decided by long-dead justices whose opinions were written in the dry, exhausting prose of the 19th century.

And then at night, I went home. Home was a modest, one-bedroom apartment in a historic high-rise on Detroit’s west side. As an outsider, I misunderstood that its location within a mile or two from major landmarks meant it must be safe. Henry Ford Hospital, the GM Headquarters (GM would later abandon the neighborhood and move downtown), and the Motown Museum were all relatively close. During the daytime, the neighborhood bustled with traffic.

But at nighttime… at nighttime all hell broke loose. Police car and ambulance sirens interrupted the noise of car alarms, breaking glass, screaming, gun shots and helicopters. Looking out my window, I could see the flames and smoke shooting up so high from the homes in the surrounding neighborhood when they burned. I had moved into a war zone.

The homeless men who lived in and scavenged through our garbage dumpsters would appear seemingly out of nowhere, like ghosts or zombies, and disappear again. Above me, I routinely heard the fights of my upstairs neighbors. A woman being beaten, furniture crashing, the sound of a body being dragged kicking and thrashing across wood floors. From the hallway, my giant nextdoor neighbor would bellow out loud shouts and slurred songs sometime after 2am, arriving home drunk more often than not. Sometimes he would pause in front of my door, screaming nonsense. Once he vomited there, pounding the wall as he wretched in agony and yelled. You could hear the rats in the stairwells and see their droppings in the morning, but you never saw them. I heard stories of cats and small dogs being torn to pieces by Detroit’s apartment-dwelling rats. The cockroaches were everywhere too, scuttling away when you open a cabinet door. Further down the hall, a zealot neighbor stayed up until all hours of the night screaming in tongues, clapping and shouting with her tv set full blast to a station preaching salvation. Around me, music pulsed and throbbed so loud that the walls and windows shook. A glass on the table would bounce from the vibrations.

And just when sun began to rise, and life quieted down, it was time to go to school and experience the Socratic method of getting your ass handed to you while you attempt to explain the Rule Against Perpetuities.

 

 

 

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Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Meeting of Creditors Transcript

Every Chapter 7 bankruptcy case has an initial court date called a First Meeting of Creditors (or 341 hearing) that is conducted by the Chapter 7 Trustee assigned to the case. The transcript below was produced by the Office of the United States Trustee (a component of the US Department of Justice).

This is a transcript of a hearing of one of our cases. The Debtors’ names have been censored to protect their privacy.

What you cannot see in the transcript is that this case was called out of order by the Chapter 7 Trustee. Trustee Nathan saw that I was prepared and called my clients’ case first, allowing them to leave court earlier than when they were docketed to be heard.

Please observe that I am very interactive with the Trustee during his examination of my clients. During the examination, I think it is clear that I am very familiar with the documents that were filed with the Court and the financial information that was used to prepare them. I handle each case start-to-finish, from the initial client consultation to document preparation to court appearances. I do not contract other attorneys to cover my court appearances.

UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT

EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN

Case No. 13-48311

BEFORE KENNETH NATHAN, CHAPTER 7 TRUSTEE

341 hearing

Detroit, Michigan

Thursday, May 30, 2013

12:00 P.M. Call

THE TRUSTEE: Case number 13-48311 (Mr. Debtor) and (Mrs. Debtor). Step forward, folks. Raise your right hands.

(NAMES CENSORED), DEBTORS, SWORN

THE TRUSTEE: Have a seat.

EXAMINATION

Q. Did you review and understand the bankruptcy information sheet?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

Q. Starting with you, sir, state your name for the record, please.

A. (Mr. Debtor) (NAME CENSORED)

Q. And ma’am, your name?

A. (Mrs. Debtor) (NAME CENSORED).

THE TRUSTEE: Counsel, put your name on the record, please.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: Good afternoon, Mr. Trustee. For the record Attorney Scott Zochowski on behalf of the Debtors.

BY THE TRUSTEE:

Q. Your attorney has placed in front of you folks some documents. Can you identify those as your bankruptcy petition, schedules and other related bankruptcy pleadings?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

Q. And is that your signatures that appear in each place you’re required to have signed them?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

Q. Each of you reviewed them in advance of signature?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

Q. And when you signed them, you were satisfied it was all truthful and accurate?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

Q. Still that way today?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) (indiscernible)

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: (indiscernible)

THE TRUSTEE: You’ve got something you want to tell me about?

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: Yes. The ’97 Mercury Sable that was driven their adult son –

THE TRUSTEE: Uh-huh.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: — has been in an auto accident in Ohio, and is totaled and in the possession of a sheriff’s department in Ohio. We have a letter from the sheriff.

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. Is it insured?

A. (Mr. Debtor) There was no insurance on it. I mean it was insured, but not for collision or damage. So once they towed it —

THE TRUSTEE: Isn’t that required in the state of Ohio?

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: P.L.P.D. basically.

THE WITNESS: (Mr. Debtor) Right. Right. It was insured, but the — the wreckage is not insured. I mean —

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. Okay. So there’s no money —

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

THE TRUSTEE: Okay. Anything else?

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: Minor changes to Schedule F. There were some additional unsecured creditors they’ve received some bills post-petition —

THE TRUSTEE: All right.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: — that were not on your credit report. We’re going to be amending the schedules to give them notice. But no other changes?

THE WITNESS: (Mr. Debtor) No.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: Thank you.

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. And have you folks ever filed for bankruptcy before?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

Q. Do you still reside at the address disclosed on your petition?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

Q. And that’s a home that you folks own; right?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

Q. And are you trying to keep the home?

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

Q. And I’m — I’m interested in the value of that home, how we came up with the 100, what did we do to figure that out?

A. (Mr. Debtor) The home sits in a neighborhood where across the street there have been several foreclosures. There is property recently that went to auction that —

Q. I’m just wondering are there any homes similar to yours in the neighborhood?

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: We were seeing similar sales in the last year between 74,000 to 170.

THE TRUSTEE: That’s a big range.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: It is a big range. Based on what were most similar in size, condition, age, that’s how we arrived at about $100,000, looking on the Zillow website of recent sales.

THE WITNESS: (Mr. Debtor) The property resides in an area where some of the homes will have lake frontage, and ours is a 1920 house that has like five feet access to lake frontage. So there’s a big range in the value in the area.

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. Okay. Are you comfortable? You think that’s about right on your number, 100,000?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Right. I had insurance claim the other day, or an insurance person out that said they were going to cancel my insurance because I needed to repair stuff. So the house is in need of repair.

Q. Okay. And then let’s — what about the other property that you have an interest in, how did you come up with the value on that?

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: Stone Street?

THE TRUSTEE: Yeah.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: This is property that (Mr. Debtor) owns jointly with —

THE TRUSTEE: I know.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: — three family members. Looking at sales in that neighborhood, property values were ranging between 25,000 to 55,000 in the last year.

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. And that’s another property that needs repair?

A. (Mrs. Debtor) It’s very dated. It’s very old. Yes.

Q. And who lives there?

A. (Mr. Debtor) My father. It’s been his home since 1975.

Q. Okay. Did he put you on there just for estate planning?

A. (Mr. Debtor) That was exactly the purpose.

Q. Okay. Any other properties that you’ve owned in the last two years?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

Q. Have you folks sued anybody in the last five years?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

Q. Thinking about suing anybody at this time for any reason?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

Q. Have you sold, transferred or given away any personal belongings or property of any type in the last few years?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

Q. Anybody owe you any money?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

Q. Anybody holding anything that belongs to you?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

Q. Are you entitled to any life insurance benefit or inheritance?

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

Q. Own or operate any businesses?

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: Sole proprietorship.

THE WITNESS: (Mr. Debtor) I have a sole proprietorship that —

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. What is that?

A. (Mr. Debtor) — that’s been in the arrears for years.

Q. What is it?

A. (Mr. Debtor) I — I worked for Port Huron Hospital for almost 30 years, and during that time, they were growing, and we were providing custom framing, diplomas and the interior artwork. So I was convinced, well before the economy tanked, that I should do that as a sole proprietor (indiscernible).

Q. (Interrupting.) Are you still doing that?

A. (Mr. Debtor) There’s no business. We have competitors in the area that will offer 50 percent off what I can do.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: So that’s the d/b/a, Custom Cuts and Framing —

THE WITNESS: (Mr. Debtor) Right.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: — that we placed on your schedules. And it has a few equipment items related to the business you described?

THE WITNESS: (Mr. Debtor) There are hand tools and mat cutters, saws, nothing of great value there.

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. Are you trying to keep the home on Gratiot Avenue?

A. (Mr. Debtor) It’s our — it’s our home, and that’s the one we are trying to keep.

Q. (Interrupting.) Are you current on the payments?

A. (Mr. Debtor) We are.

Q. How are you maintaining the payments? I’m looking at your budget. You’re $2,400 in arrears each month.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: They had exhausted retirement savings —

THE TRUSTEE: I know.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: — account in the last year, and that’s why there’s a tax liability for 2012.

THE TRUSTEE: I get all that. But I’m just wondering how we’re going to pay for the house going forward.

THE WITNESS: (Mr. Debtor) I’ve applied — every day I apply for jobs. I have a second interview that they wanted to do today, and I put them off until tomorrow. So — at 56 I’m trying to find employment.

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. I understand. I’m not — I’m not — I want to appreciate that you’re $2,400 in arrears, and you’re not going to reaffirm that debt, are you?

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: No, we wouldn’t be reaffirming it.

THE TRUSTEE: Just keep paying on it —

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: (Interrupting.) If they can. And we’ll see if they can possibly get a loan modification.

THE TRUSTEE: Right. I understand.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: The bank has contacted my office for authorization to discuss a loan modification —

THE TRUSTEE: All right.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: — directly with them.

THE TRUSTEE: Fair enough.

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. Have you paid any money to any family members or close friends in the last year?

A. (Mr. Debtor) No.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) No.

Q. Have you paid your attorney in full?

A. (Mr. Debtor) Yes.

A. (Mrs. Debtor) Yes.

Q. All right. I’ve verified Social Security number, picture I.D. You’re all set for now.

MR. ZOCHOWSKI: Thank you very much.

(Hearing concluded.)

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Our Competitors: Sample Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Meeting of Creditors Transcript

Every Chapter 7 bankruptcy case has an initial court date called a First Meeting of Creditors (or 341 hearing) that is conducted by the Chapter 7 Trustee assigned to the case. The transcript below was produced by the Office of the United States Trustee (a component of the US Department of Justice).

This is a transcript of a hearing of one of our competitors. The “special appearance” referenced by the attorney means that she does not work for the law firm that the Debtor hired. She has been contracted by that office only to appear at the court date. She met the Debtor for the first time on his court date. Please notice the silence from the Debtor’s attorney at the hearing. The only things she says are “I’m sorry,” her name and “Thank you,” despite the fact that the Trustee is very aggressively examining her client.

What you cannot see in the transcript is that this case was actually called 3 times over 1 hour before the Debtor’s attorney arrived. The Trustee had to repeatedly send the Debtor outside to search for his attorney and expressed his frustration off the record. Additionally, the Trustee filed a motion almost immediately after this court date, challenging the relief the Debtor was seeking.

All bankruptcy attorneys must disclose their fee agreements in writing with the Court. I checked out this law firm’s fee agreement. Although the initial upfront costs appear low, per the fee agreement the law firm will be charging the Debtor significant additional fees for these additional court appearances that could have been avoided.

UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT

EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN

Case No. 13-48156

BEFORE KENNETH NATHAN, CHAPTER 7 TRUSTEE

341 hearing

Detroit, Michigan

Thursday, May 30, 2013

11:00 A.M. Call

THE TRUSTEE: Case number 13-48156, (Debtor). Raise your right hand, please.

 (NAME CENSORED), DEBTOR, SWORN

 THE TRUSTEE: Where’s my questionnaire?

 MS. NIFOROS: I’m sorry.

 THE TRUSTEE: You can have a seat.

EXAMINATION

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. Did you review and understand the bankruptcy information sheet?

 A. Yes.

 Q. State your name for the record.

 A. (CENSORED).

 THE TRUSTEE: Counsel, put your name on the record.

MS. NIFOROS: Thank you. Elaine Niforos by special appearance for Gudeman & Associates on behalf of (Debtor).

BY THE TRUSTEE: Q. Your attorney has placed in front of you some documents. Can you identify those as your bankruptcy petition, schedules and other related bankruptcy pleadings?

A. Yes.

Q. And is that your signature that appears in each place you’re required to have signed them?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. And did you review them before you signed them?

A. Yes.

Q. And at the time of signature were you satisfied it was all a truthful and accurate statement?

A. Yes, sir.

Q. Is it still that way today?

A. Yes, it is.

Q. Are there any changes you need to make to any of those documents today?

A. No.

Q. Have you ever filed for bankruptcy before?

A. No, never.

Q. And why are you filing now?

A. Just no income.

Q. When did that stop?

A. About four years ago.

Q. So you haven’t had any income in four years?

A. No. I was in school, then graduated, and haven’t been able to find a job.

Q. So you haven’t worked — when is the last time you worked?

A. 2007.

Q. Okay. Let’s take a look at your Schedule F. Spend a little time on that. So you haven’t worked since 2007. You have an open credit card with American Express. When is the last time you used that?

A. Over — over three, four years. Haven’t used it.

Q. So have you used it since 2007?

A. I don’t believe so, no.

Q. It says last active in 2008.

A. Could be.

Q. Could be, huh?

A. Yeah.

Q. You ran up $30,000 with American Express. How were you ever going to pay them back?

A. At that time I was working for real estate and —

Q. What’s the most you ever earned in one year?

A. (indiscernible)

Q. Most money you ever earned in one year working?

A. About 15,000.

Q. 15,000?

A. (No audible response.)

Q. Okay. You have $200,000 of unsecured debt. The most you ever earned in one year is $15,000. How did you ever think any chance you were paying this back?

A. It just got out of control.

Q. How did you get the credit? What did you tell them your income was to get 15 — to get credit making $15,000 a year? When they asked you what your income was, what did you tell them?

A. You know, I showed them tax return.

Q. No, you didn’t. You didn’t give your creditor – you gave American Express a tax return?

A. No, not American Express, no. It was a car lease.

Q. Okay. What about American Express? What did you tell them your income was to get credit? What did you tell Discover your income is?

A. I think recent — that was open in early on.

Q. What did you get at Flagstar Bank?

A. A loan.

Q. What kind of loan?

A. A motorcycle loan.

Q. How many years did you work before you stopped working in 2007?

A. I’d been working, you know, restaurant jobs and —

Q. And what was —

A. — part time while I was in school.

Q. But you — but you never had really a full-time job that paid any significant amount of money?

A. During summer I worked.

Q. Okay. Summer, a summer job?

A. (No audible response.)

Q. And what’s the — again, in one year, what’s the most you’ve ever earned?

A. I would say around that amount, 15,000.

Q. 15,000. Where did you get the money to pay your attorney?

A. My parents.

Q. Where did you get the money to live?

A. I just live with my parents.

Q. They pay for everything?

A. Essentially.

Q. Do you have student loans that you have — don’t — can’t pay back either?

A. Yeah. They’re all in default, and I filed for consolidation.

Q. Have you looked for work?

A. Yes.

Q. Can’t get any job at all?

A. For what I went to school for, I — I’ve applied and it seems they look at my credit and we just never speak again.

Q. Have you sold, transferred or given away an property of any type in the last couple years?

A. No.

Q. Sued anybody in the last five years?

A. Never, no.

Q. Anyone owe you any money for any reason?

A. No.

Q. Paid any monies to any family members or close friends in the last year?

A. No, never.

THE TRUSTEE: I don’t have anything further at this time. You’re all set.

MS. NIFOROS: Thank you.

(Hearing concluded.)

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ATF says no handguns for Michigan’s medicinal marijuana users

Even if you are not planning on carrying it as a concealed weapon, the law requires you to register your handgun (i.e., a gun other than a rifle). For many years, it has been well-established law that certain individuals are prohibited from having a registered handgun (e.g., a convicted felon, a respondent to a personal protection order, etc.).

In Michigan, it is now legal under state law to possess small amounts of medical marijuana if you have been approved for a medicinal marijuana card. However, marijuana – for medicinal and/or recreational use – is still illegal under federal law. (Controlled Substances Act, 21 USC 802) Pursuant to the federal criminal code (See 18 USC 922), it is also unlawful for “an unlawful user of a controlled substance” to buy or possess any firearm or ammunition.

Although the State of Michigan does not consider medical marijuana cardholders to be “unlawful users” of a controlled substance, the federal government views this issue differently. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF) has issued a memo (see link below) advising local state police agencies to deny handgun registration permits to medicinal marijuana cardholders.

So in Michigan, the question for law-abiding citizens becomes which do you give up, your pot or your glock?

http://www.atf.gov/files/press/releases/2011/09/092611-atf-open-letter-to-all-ffls-marijuana-for-medicinal-purposes.pdf

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