Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Human Face of Bankruptcy

This week I received an unhappy call from the wife of a debtor whose case I had written about. Although the article was posted nearly two years ago, someone had recently told her that her husband's name was mentioned on the internet. She found this very distressing. I tried to explain to her that I was merely reporting on a published opinion by a United States Bankruptcy Judge. In the background, her husband was telling her that I could not use his name without permission and that I was just trying to make money from my blog (neither one of which was true). She insisted that her husband had done nothing wrong notwithstanding the judge's ruling to the contrary.

In the end, I decided to redact the article to remove the name of the debtor and replace it with "Name Withheld by Request." I was not under any obligation to do this, since the debtor's name was part of a published opinion. However, she seemed so clueless about what had happened. She sincerely believed that everything which had happened in the case was the fault of the lawyers and the judge. She was very embarrassed that people in their small town could know about their problems. Although I had very little sympathy for the husband (who was found to have committed bad acts by Judge Bohm and who was very threatening in the background of the conversation), I did feel sorry for this very confused and embarrassed woman.

I don't know that I would do it again, because it is difficult to talk about cases without mentioning their names. However, it does point out that behind every case is a human being. When we talk about Marrama, Geiger and Cohen, these are not just Supreme Court cases, but also the names of individuals who have been immortalized in the case reporters. At the same time, I don't think that a lot of debtors fully comprehend the seriousness of what they are undertaking. As former Bankruptcy Judge Larry Kelly was fond of saying, "When you filed bankruptcy, you made a federal case out of it." Bankruptcy is a matter of public record and the unfortunate few who get their names mentioned in unfavorable written opinions will find that the memory of their deeds lives on in written pages and the increasingly on the internet.

While the name of this particular debtor is no longer mentioned on my blog, anyone can go to 366 B.R. 677 to read all about his case. I wonder if Mr. Name Withheld By Request will try to sue West Publishing for using his name without permission?

1 comment: said...

I frequently use the the specter of a published opinion (and Title 18) to convince debtors who don't think they really need to disclose something that they don't want bankruptcy laywers to know their name. As I put it: "If you are famous from having your name on a written court opinion, that is rarely a good thing."