Section Chair Richard London hosted the Consumer Bankruptcy Section’s first “coffee talk” on May 6, 2020, its third remote gathering of the COVID-19 era. The MSBA coffee talk series provides a forum for section members to learn from the MSBA about actions taken on their behalf, and to learn from each other about developments in their practice areas. More than 50 attorneys participated in this meeting, which featured a presentation and question and answer session with Chapter 13 Trustees Rebecca Herr and Robert S. Thomas II.

Before getting down to business, Mr. London paused to pay tribute to “bankruptcy legend” Richard H. Gins, who passed away on May 4. Mr. London noted that Mr. Gins was a mentor to many, and will be sorely missed. Lynn Kohen recalled him as a fierce advocate inside the courtroom, but a caring friend outside it. A “character” of the highest character, section members recalled, Mr. Gins exhibited true humanity to everyone he touched.

MSBA Director of Member Experience & Programs Shaoli Kata, joined by Deputy Executive Director Anna Sholl, Director of Learning Andrea Terry, and Director of the MSBA’s Lawyer Assistance Program Lisa Kaplan, presented highlights of the MSBA’s efforts to keep the Maryland Bar connected and informed during the COVID-19 emergency, including, for example: regular communications with the state and federal judiciary and the Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel; working with the Chamber of Commerce to address the economic impact of the pandemic; providing health and wellness support; and producing and providing free CLE on both COVID-related and non-COVID practice issues. Details and resources concerning these and other aspects of the MSBA’ pandemic response can be found here. And, of course, the MSBA is continuing to release new publications, including Judgment Avoidance: Exemptions and Lien Stripping, What Every Maryland Attorney Should Know, written by section members Mark Kivitz and Jan Berlage, which will be out in print and digital formats later this spring.

The talk was then turned over to Mr. Thomas and Ms. Herr to discuss what was happening around their courthouses. Mr. Thomas reported that remote §341 hearings are being conducted regularly by telephone and Zoom. Instructions and information for participating in remote hearings and conference guidelines have been published, and the Trustees reported that these are running smoothly. Mr. Thomas reminded attorneys to have their documents prepared in advance, and to have their clients’ photo IDs and social security cards at the ready.

Mr. Thomas discussed CARES Act provisions that permit Chapter 13 plans to be extended for up to 84 months if the debtor suffered a material hardship as a result of the pandemic. There was some discussion during the Q&A as to whether this extension will be available only to debtors with confirmed plans, and several interpretations were offered. Mr. Thomas also mentioned the moratorium on dismissals, and suggested ways to help debtors restructure payments and otherwise relieve some of the stress they may be feeling as a result of the economic downturn and its impact on their ability to make payments. He reminded practitioners to review and follow the procedures set forth in Administrative Order 20-10 when seeking emergency relief.

The Trustees also reported that the Court understands that attorneys will be called upon to provide additional services for their clients as a result of the pandemic, and that an a la carte fee schedule is being developed to facilitate the process. They fully expect attorneys to apply for additional fees for unanticipated work, and expect that they will be paid.

Both The Trustees reported that they were pleased with how staff and the Bar have been communicating, and encouraged that to continue.

The coffee talk can be heard in its entirety here. On May 20, the Consumer Bankruptcy Section will present its next webinar, Cares Act Impact on Bankruptcy & Practice Tips From the Trenches.