President's Column (35-04)
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
H. Jason Gold
The National Association of Bankruptcy Trustees is the sole voice of the chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee community. We are a vigorous group currently composed of 485 panel trustees from all parts of the country. We also have another 380 members composed of trustee counsel, trustee assistants, and other providers of services to bankruptcy trustees and estates. Our diversity, reflected by all types of demographics, is likely unsurpassed by any professional organization in the country. And it is our diversity which brings us innovative ideas and dedication to what we do. It goes without saying that what we do is a necessary and critical service, often taken for granted, that insures the smooth operation of the nation’s bankruptcy system.
There is a small but growing group of thoughtful people – some academics and consumer debtors’ attorneys among them – who believe that perhaps the system could work better without trustees. Schedules could be reviewed by bureaucrats, or perhaps by computer algorithms. Judges would play a more administrative role. It would be better for debtors, the argument goes, because the debtors would save a portion of the filing fee; and life would be easier for debtors’ attorneys too. But you can bet that before anything so radical is enacted it will be carefully studied and perhaps tried as a pilot program. And if you believe that…
NABT will be vigilantly watching out for the possibility that such a scheme will gain traction. Nothing could be worse for the efficient and smooth operation of our bankruptcy system than to implement a fix for something that isn’t broken. The two pillars of responsibility that rest on the shoulders of trustees: Investigate the affairs of debtors to keep them honest; and find value for creditors, would essentially disappear without trustees.
It is a great honor and privilege to serve as your president this year. I follow in the footsteps and stand on the shoulders of some very special prior leaders of our organization. Our immediate past-president, Ray Obuchowski, is just one example of the busy professionals, all lawyers and accountants, who have given up hundreds of hours of professional time to devote to the leadership of our organization. We do this job because we want to serve.
But the specific list of responsibilities of panel trustees continues to grow, and our compensation has not increased in twenty-five years. The effort to convince the Congress to enact legislation to increase the no-asset fee continues unabated. I wish I could assure you that it is only a matter of time before it happens, but we continue to face forces that simply don’t want the increase to come from the only realistic place it could come from: the filing fee. An increase of $60 would only make up for inflation since the last increase in 1994. It wouldn’t even take into account the added work foisted upon trustees by BAPCPA in 2005.
As we enter 2020 NABT has never been stronger. Our Executive Director, Jennifer Brinkley, and her dedicated team have been outstanding in their professionalism. Membership is growing, services to members are being delivered in a timely fashion and new ideas to further help trustees do their jobs are being discussed and implemented. One of those ideas is the Trustee Practice Workshop scheduled for March 17- 18, 2020 in Atlanta. It’s a full day presentation that will allow us to share best practices and efficient office/practice methods with the membership. Capacity is limited to 100 attendees, so sign up now. You don’t want to miss it.