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U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Bennett didn’t have much to decide at today’s largely procedural and technical hearing on Jefferson County’s $4.2 billion Chapter 9 filing.
But he did lay down the law on the work schedule he will expect lawyers to
keep in dealing with the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
And they aren’t country club hours. Bennett told lawyers at the
hearing that he is known for pushing cases along, and that might include
working on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and on weekends. He shared his
views as he and the lawyers in the case were attempting to schedule
upcoming hearings. One of them mentioned the looming winter holidays.
“The idea of the holidays necessitating anything is wrong,” Bennett rebuked
the lawyer. “You should expect to have a full-time job ahead of you.” Not much happened at the hearing of consequence to the public. As the
petitioners for bankruptcy, Jefferson County’s lawyers had to offer
stacks of documents proposing exactly how the case will go forward —
when certain matters of law will be argued, how documents will be
submitted, and by when certain documents have to be filed with the
“This will be a large and unruly case,” said Patrick Darby, Jefferson County’s lead attorney, with the Birmingham firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. The 10 a.m. hearing was adjourned about an hour after it started.
Jefferson County, facing $4.23 billion in debt and running short of
cash, gave up last Wednesday on reaching a deal with its creditors and
immediately filed the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history. The 4-1 vote to seek protection under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy
Code came on the 365th day since the current commission took office.
That year was dominated by sometimes frantic negotiations with Wall
Street banks that over the past decade loaned and refinanced more debt
than the county had the ability to repay.