Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, April 23, 2012


Page 1


Senate Passes Bill to Extend Bankruptcy Judgeships, Including Three in Central District of California


By a MetNews Staff Writer


A bill that would extend several temporary bankruptcy judgeships, including three in the Central District of California and one in the state’s Eastern District, has passed the U.S. Senate unanimously.

The bill would extend 29 temporary judge positions in 20 judicial districts that have expired. Absent the extensions, which would be for five years, vacancies in those positions could not be filled.

The Blog of Legal Times Friday quoted Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., the bill’s main proponent, as saying this would “prevent a genuine crisis in America’s bankruptcy court system.” But judges cost money, and the $16 million price tag had been the main obstacle for the Senate amid overall efforts to reel in the national debt, the blog reported.

To get unanimous support, the Senate passed H.R. 1021, the Bankruptcy Judgeships Temporary Extension Act of 2011, but tacked $167 onto the current $1,000 bankruptcy filing fee. That amended version must now pass the House, where the original bill passed unanimously, and Coons said he expects that to happen.

The Senate also added an amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., requiring a cost/benefit study before any of these positions can be extended again. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the Judiciary Committee chair, agreed to the amendment but said on the floor Thursday that it was unnecessary because that’s what committees do anyway.

Two judgeships have already been lost, the blog reported, because of the expiration of the temporary judgeship law, including the spot for now-retired Judge Arthur Gonzalez in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Also, one of the two bankruptcy judges in New Hampshire retired in 2010, while a judge in the Western District of Tennessee is set to leave the bench in July, meaning that district will go from five to four judges if the law is not passed before then.

Coons said Gonzalez’s retirement got the attention of people from the other 14 states and Puerto Rico who stand to lose bankruptcy judges.

In 2005, Congress added 28 temporary bankruptcy judgeships at the same time it made sweeping changes with the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which also calls on those judges to do more to prevent bankruptcy fraud. As of Oct. 31 of last year, the blog reported, there were 338 bankruptcy judges on the bench nationwide in 90 geographic districts to handle six types of bankruptcy filings, including consumer and business filings under Chapter 7, reorganization filings under Chapter 11 and debt repayment under Chapter 13.


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