Like everyone else, our bankruptcy courts, trustees and practitioners have been adjusting and coping with the 2020 Pandemic Shutdown. Here is how they and we are doing it. If you need bankruptcy relief, the shutdown should not prevent you from contacting an attorney and moving forward.
The courts are open and accepting new bankruptcy filings. For well over 20 years, the courts and trustee have been accepting most filings and submissions electronically, in the form of Adobe .pdf documents. That is continuing. Many court staff have been working remotely, although court clerk staff are available by phone and to a limited degree in person.
Motions are presumed to be heard without oral argument. No one is actually appearing in court. Where a court or parties need oral argument, these are being done through the Court Solutions telephonic appearance portal. It works pretty well.
Both Chapter 13 and Chapter 7 trustees are conducting required First Meetings of Creditors by telephone. This has worked surprisingly well, but it requires that debtors and their attorneys be well prepared and submit documents to the trustee in advance. Trustees have various means of meeting the requirement to verify debtor SS numbers and identity through government issues photo identification. We have been requiring clients to supply us clear copies of both in advance. Again this works pretty well.
Chapter 13 Plan confirmations are handled the same as motions, but the Trustees have been providing proposed dispositions which if acceptable to the debtors and objecting parties mean that no actual appearance is needed. We have always striven to get all the issues resolved wherever possible in advance to save our clients the expense of court appearances. We seek adjournments when necessary to achieve this.
Trials have been adjourned and certain deadlines have been extended until after the pandemic shutdown is over.
We have held our initial client conferences using the Zoom video conferencing app and this has worked pretty well. When it comes time to sign or file we will either send the final documents for signing and have a Zoom meeting to go over them and witness the signing, or have a socially distant office meeting (with masks, hand sanitization and minimal contact).
In short, the pandemic has been a mixed blessing. It requires that attorneys be more on the ball and that their clients be fully cooperative. However, the system is open for business and working fairly well.
Outside the bankruptcy court, other courts are following similar procedures. Fortunately, NJ state courts have already implemented electronic filing.
We are of course available to help clients in need. Call or email us to find out more!