What a treat it was to attend the 19th annual Bankruptcy Holiday Luncheon and CLE last Friday at the Killington Grand Resort. VBA Bankruptcy Section Co-Chairs, Don Hayes and Nancy Geise put together a varied, informative and entertaining day packed with 7 hours of CLE credit. Despite the packed schedule, the collegial bar still found time to socialize and network. Questions flew during each segment, so we knew the attendees were truly listening with rapt attention.
The day started out with a hot breakfast followed by the ever-engaging and interactive ethics presentation by Bar Counsel and Past-President Mike Kennedy. This was followed by the always popular annual case summaries, presented by Renee Staudinger Calabro and Samantha Henchen — touching on all cases from reaffirmations to sanctions and reorganizations to discharges and everything in between. We next learned all about student loans from Melissa Ranaldo and Todd Taylor. After (and during!) a quick lunch break, US Bankruptcy Judge Colleen Brown presented the State of the Court after a bench and bar meeting to discuss any new rule, code and form changes affecting the daily bankruptcy practice. The State of the Court highlights will be revealed below, as they truly were a highlight of the day!
Next up, “Lost in the Weeds” presented by Heather Cooper, Andrew Subin and Tim Fair, where the impossible intersection (rather, near miss) of the world of cannabis and bankruptcy law was discussed. With state and federal laws at odds with each other and the quick boom and bust of many hemp farms and cannabis-related businesses, the panelists explored a world where bankruptcy is needed but unavailable to date. This segued perfectly into the next panel demystifying Chapter 12 farm bankruptcies, presented by Chapter 12 Trustee Jan Sensenich, Judge Brown, Peter Fitzgerald and Rebecca Rice. The presenters emphasized the underutilized and limitless possibilities for farmers presented by Chapter 12 relief. Finally, Don Hayes and Marc Webb hosted an interactive problem-solving session complete with hypotheticals, electronic voting devices and fascinating discussions about pressing ethical and legal issues facing debtors, creditors and their attorneys.
Despite the non-stop snow throughout the day, and skiers longing to step outside and take a run, the attendees remained engaged for the full day. In her State of the Court remarks, Judge Brown posited the idea that practicing in bankruptcy court, and particularly by engaging in pro bono work in bankruptcy court, is a true antidote to what she describes as the “growing economic disparity in our country, and even more so, the ‘them versus us’ paradigm that seems to frame our descriptions of virtually every type of conflict.” How so, you ask? Well Judge Brown started by describing how by engaging in pro bono work, attorneys interact with people they may not ordinarily know and not only provide direct benefit to them, but receive “personal gratification of helping another.”
Generally, pro bono work is about deeply listening to clients’ stories. She noted: “It is also showing that you recognize these clients as individuals, not just a part of the monolithic ‘other.’ In many instances, it will generate a sense of compassion for others – and by extension have an impact on the way you interact with others in all aspects of your life.” For bankruptcy pro bono, in particular, it is easy to be humble recognizing that the majority of bankruptcy cases are filed due to circumstances beyond the debtor’s control: job loss, medical expenses, divorce, dropping milk prices, death of a small business owner, outsourcing, online shopping and so many other circumstances that negatively impact a larger community. Judge Brown praised the Vermont bankruptcy bar for their unique generosity, collaboration, professionalism and fairness when working together with respect to achieve equity especially with the “growing number of divides in our country.”
Judge Brown’s closing remarks were an inspiration to us all as she expressed her hopes that we will all continue to “find ways to expand the practices we have here, out into our worlds; be sensitive to differences; reach out to help people – and learn the stories of people – we might not otherwise know; and intentionally resist situations which try to draw us into a them-versus-us mentality so we can focus on the dignity of each person. I also wish each of you good health, peace, and joy in 2020!” As from Judge Brown, so as from the VBA, we wish you all the ability to focus on the dignity of each client, colleague, friend, family member and stranger, and to have good health, peace and joy in 2020!