October 20, 2007
Great Kozinski Article on Writing Briefs and Oral Advocacy
Kozinski, Alex, The Wrong Stuff, 1992 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 325. This article is 15 years old but is or should be mandatory reading in every law school writing or advocacy class. It is actually a speech Judge Kozinski gave at BYU. He subtitled it - How to Lose an Appeal. As sarcastic as ever, Kozinski sets forth a great compendium of "don'ts" when writing and presenting your appeal.
- "First, you want to tell the judges right up front that you have a rotten case. The best way to do this is to write a fat brief. So if the rules give you 50 pages, ask for 75, 90, 125--the more the better. Even if you don't get the extra pages, you will let the judges know you don't have an
argument capable of being presented in a simple, direct, persuasive fashion. Keep in mind that simple arguments are winning arguments; convoluted arguments are sleeping pills on paper.
- Bind your brief so that it falls apart when the judge gets about half way through it. Also--this is a biggie-- make sure your photocopier is low on toner or scratch the glass so it will put annoying lines on every page. The judge won't even be able to decipher what you wrote, much less what you meant.
- [W]inning arguments should not only be buried, they should also be written so as to be totally unintelligible. Use convoluted sentences; leave out the verb, the subject, or both. Avoid periods like the plague. Be generous with legal jargon and use plenty of Latin. And don't forget the acronyms in bureaucratese.
- [P]ick a fight with opposing counsel. Go ahead, call him a slime. Accuse him of lying through his teeth. [In one particular case], I found myself cheering for the lawyers and forgot all about the legal issues.
- You can always create a diversion by attacking the district judge. You might start out by suggesting that he must be on the take because he ruled against you. Or that he is senile or drunk with power, or just plain drunk.
- Block quotes, by the way, are a must; they take up a lot of space but nobody reads them. Whenever I see a block quote I figure the lawyer had to go to the bathroom and forgot to turn off the merge/store function on his computer.
- A good way to improve your chances of losing is to overclaim the strength of your case. When it's your turn to speak, start off by explaining how miffed you are that this farce--this travesty of justice--has gone this far when it should have been clear to any dolt that your client's case is ironclad. Now the reason this is a good tactic is that it challenges the judges to get you to admit that there is just some little teensy-weensy weakness in your case.
- When you feel you've got them good and lathered, move into the next phase: stonewalling. What you want to avoid at all costs is giving a short, direct answer to the question. Instead, tease the judge, equivocate, make him rephrase the question. The point is to get the judge really committed to the question so that the lack of a good answer will take on monstrous significance. A good way to start is by ridiculing the question: "I was afraid the court would get sidetracked down a blind alley by this red herring."
- An alternative to stonewalling--and one of my personal favorites--is cutting off a judge's question. Doing this gives you several important advantages. First, it's rude, and if you're out to lose your case, there is really no substitute for offending the guy who's about to decide your case. Beyond that, cutting off the judge mid-question sends an important message: Look here your honor, you think you're so clever, but I know exactly what is going on inside that pointed little head of yours. Then again, cutting the judge off gives you an opportunity to answer the wrong question.
One comment which kind of surprised me is that the judges know the law. Its likely one of the three wrote the opinion on one of the important cases relating to the issue at hand. Consentrate on the facts and be sure to know the record inside and out.
October 19, 2007
Appreciation of Property During the Chapter 7 Dilemma
There is a lot a lip service given to the fact that exemptions are determined as of the petition date. But if the property, exempt at filing, appreciates in value during the administration of the estate, who gets the benefit of the appreciation? In the Ninth Circuit the answer is clearly - the estate. The Chappell case confirms that. The argument is that the property is not exempt as of the date of filing, x amount of value in the property is exempt. Since exempt property is still property of the estate, the only thing the debtor has the right to is the amount of the exemption in the property - at some point in time depending on the trustee's activity during the administration of the estate.
But this analysis goes against the history of bankruptcy in my opinion. In the earliest days, the 1700s, states had insolvency laws that permitted a person to be discharged from jail in return for a surrender of his property. There was some property he did not have to surrender - whatever the state decided was the minimum the debtor needed to have a meaningful existence. In the Bankruptcy Act of 1800, the debtor was permitted to keep "necessary wearing apparel and necessary bed and bedding." That was the sum total of allowed exemptions. The whole idea has always been that in exchange for all your property that creditors have the right to seize anyway, you get a fresh start - the discharge.
Tara Twomey pointed out to me that it makes sense if there is property which has equity for the estate, as of the petition date. The trustee can decide to sell it now or later. But if there is no equity as of the filing date, the property should immediately revert to the debtor once the opportunity to object to the exemption has run.
Klein v. Chappell (In re Chappell), ---- B.R. ----, 2007 WL 2200594, (9th Cir. BAP July, 2007)
Issue: Is “postpetition appreciation of exempt property . . . treated the same under the federal exemption scheme as under a state’s exemption scheme?”
Holding: Yes, the appreciation belongs to the estate.
Judge Thomas Glover
Riblet, Klein, Montali
Opinion by Riblet
The debtors filed chapter 7 and claimed their residence in Washington exempt under the federal exemption, Section 522. The trustee did not object. The debtor did not seek abandonment. Two years later the bank filed a Motion for Relief. The trustee opposed the motion arguing that the property had appreciated $200,000 leaving $140,000 for the estate if sold. The trustee asked the bankruptcy court to rule that the appreciation belonged to the estate. The court denied the motion ruling, according to the BAP, that “the residence was withdrawn from administration pursuant to § 522(l) at the expiration of the time to object to exemptions and there was no remaining interest in the residence for the trustee to administer.” Note: Washington has not “opted out” of the federal exemption scheme.
The BAP reversed saying, “In view of the United States Supreme Court’s accordance of equivalence of treatment to federal and state exemptions, we disagree with the debtors’ contention that by claiming a federal residence exemption they were entitled to an ‘aggregate’ interest in the entirety of their residence.” This is especially so here where the debtors exempted a specific amount on Schedule C.
As to the lengthy delay by the trustee, the BAP said, “The debtors here are in large part the ‘victims’ of their own inaction. Their chapter 7 petition was filed on June 30, 2004. The record reveals they took no action to extricate their property from the estate until two years later when the secured creditor sought relief from the automatic stay and the trustee expressed his intent to sell.”
Note: This case has a nice summary of the law that the estate gets the post-filing appreciation of the property of the estate. It also analyzes the effect of stating a specific amount of dollar exemption on Schedule C. The debtor is limited to that amount.
October 18, 2007
Improper Delegation of Authority?
There is a great post on the Credit Slips blog today by John Rao, the Secretary and a Board Member of NACBA. It seems the IRS has been working away revising the various tables that are now used to determine whether or not a person qualifies for chapter 7 as well as to compute the plan payment for over-median chapter 13 debtors. The new tables were to be effective on October 1, 2007. The IRS has even added a new standard called Out-of-Pocket Health Care Expenses.
The problem is the IRS did not tell anyone in the bankruptcy world about these revisions. In the meantime, a Bankruptcy Rules Committee has been revising the means test forms not knowing that the changes they were laboring over would not work in some cases with the new tables. The IRS then announced that it would delay implementation of the new tables until the first of the year to give the Rules Committee to include the changes.
Rao raises an interesting question then about whether or not Congress has improperly delegated the authority to decide who can file bankruptcy to the IRS. In a way he is right. Furthermore, on what basis can the IRS delay implementation based on the bankruptcy system? Some debtors will or won't qualify to file chapter 7 today who might or might not have qualified under the new tables. The new tables will affect directly what the chapter 13 plan payments will be to at least some over-median debtors. The IRS is then administratively deciding which debtors qualify. The IRS is at the helm deciding how much plan payments will be in at least some cases. The revisions probably do not affect loads of debtors but certainly as to some people, the IRS is doing the deciding.
Not to get to preachy, but this issue has come up before in the area of exemptions. The Bankruptcy Act of 1898 was attacked as unconstitutional because it permitted the various states through exemptions to decide what property of the debtor the trustee could take. The Supreme Court found the "scheme" to be constitutional in Hanover Nat. Bank v. Moyses, 186 U.S. 181 (1902).
October 15, 2007
Central District Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney's Association
This is a group I am in which covers the Central District of California. The group's latest newsletter can be found here.
We are having a dinner on November 7, 2007 in which we will honor Peter Anderson, the US Trustee for our Region. Our website can be accessed here.