The Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida remains open despite the COVID-19 Pandemic and the Stay at Home Order issued by the Governor DeSantis.
Bankruptcy Attorneys’ ability to electronically file documents with the Court has not been interrupted by the Pandemic. Conventional filing of bankruptcy paperwork at the Clerk’s Office by self-represented debtors is temporarily not available. However, the Court has expanded the filing options for self-represented debtors.
Other adjustments made by the Court in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic are outlined below.
The Court is presently hearing cases only by Telephone. All non-evidentiary hearings have gone forward without delay by telephone.
Both Judges hearing cases in the West Palm Beach division of the Bankruptcy Court use the same telephone service provider, Court-Solutions. While there is a fee to use Court-Solutions for attorneys, the service is free for self-represented debtors.
Trials and evidentiary hearings have been rescheduled by the Court.
341 Meeting of Creditors
The 341 Meeting of Creditors is ordinarily the only hearing a Chapter 7 or 13 Bankruptcy Debtor has to attend. This is a hearing in which the Debtor is placed under oath and asked questions by the Bankruptcy Trustee and any creditors that are present. A number of these hearings scheduled in March and April were rescheduled while the US Trustee determined how to conduct the hearings in a safe manner.
All 341 Meeting of Creditors will be conducted by Telephone. The Notice of Bankruptcy includes a phone number and pass code to be used by parties when “attending” the 341 Meeting of Creditors.
The hearings will be otherwise conducted as if they were done in person. The hearings will not be shortened because they are being conducted by Telephone.
Debtor, through counsel, must provide to the Trustee a copy of Debtor’s government issued ID and Social Security Card prior to the hearing. Said identification must be provided in addition to tax return(s), bank statements, and other documentation previously required by the Trustee.
Ordinarily, I meet in-person with potential clients to do a free consultation. We discuss all assets, liabilities, the household budget, and other financial information relevant to bankruptcy. The consultation normally takes one and half to two hours. At the conclusion of the consultation, I advise whether a bankruptcy is appropriate, whether the individual qualifies for a bankruptcy, and which type of bankruptcy (Chapter 7 or 13) is appropriate. I also advise what the attorney fees and court costs would amount to in that particular case.
Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic I have transitioned to telephone consultations. The consultation is still free and takes approximately the same amount of time. Conducting the consultation by telephone helps ensure the safety of the potential client, my staff, and myself. Pay stubs, credit card statements, medical bills, credit reports, and other documents are provided to my office by email or conventional mail.
I am not able to currently meet with clients at my office due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. However, I may be reached by telephone and email. In addition, clients may use the office’s after-hours drop-box to provide paperwork and to make payments.
Bankruptcy paperwork review and signing
I normally meet with clients to review and sign their bankruptcy paperwork in person. We go over the documents page by page to ensure the information is accurate and to make any necessary corrections. This meeting often takes an hour.
This meeting also will take place by telephone for the foreseeable future. The paperwork will be emailed to clients in advance of the telephone meeting. The signature pages may be sent to the client by conventional mail in the event he or she does not have access to a printer.
We will review the documents in pdf form together by phone and make any changes as needed. This review ensures all of the information in the paperwork is true and accurate before filing it with the Court.
At the conclusion of the meeting the client will sign the signature pages. The client will have to provide photographic images of the signature pages to me before I electronically file the paperwork with the Court. These images may be texted or emailed to me. The original signature pages also must be returned to my office by conventional mail. The client will be subsequently provided a copy of the paperwork that was filed with the Court by conventional mail.
While the COVID-19 Pandemic has certainly disrupted everyone’s lives, it has not made bankruptcy relief unavailable to those in need of it. The Court has made accommodations to ensure the safety of debtors, creditors, attorneys, and judges. In addition, I have adjusted my office operations so that I may continue to provide bankruptcy services to those in need without compromising the health of potential clients, my staff, or myself.