By Brad D. Krasnoff, Esq.
Chapter 7 Panel Trustee, Central District of California
As you may know, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all section 341(a) hearings conducted by panel chapter 7 trustees are being done telephonically. At this writing, these telephonic hearings will be conducted (at least locally, and likely nationwide) through early September 2020.
This protocol, which was initiated in late March 2020, has impacted significantly the manner in which these hearings are conducted. Through the efforts of the Office of the United States Trustee and the panel trustees, the hearings process, while challenging, has proceeded fairly efficiently. To further aid the conduct of these hearings, a few suggestions (to counsel and to parties without counsel) follow.
1. Please cooperate with the trustees. Many of them are actively reaching out to the debtors and/or their counsel on their upcoming calendars to both provide instruction (an example: please do not put us on hold—the music is very distracting) and to request things (such as copies of valid IDs and SSI verifications). Please promptly and completely engage with the trustees regarding these requests and follow their instructions carefully and accurately. Send the trustees the requested ID and SSI copies. Send the trustees completed domestic support obligation (DSO) forms if the debtor has such court-ordered obligations. Send the trustees the completed declaration regarding pro se document preparation if the debtor did not have counsel assist in the case. If there are questions, reach out to the trustee—sooner rather than later. All of these things can and will greatly facilitate the process.
2. Please be prepared for the hearings. Especially for parties with counsel, your counsel is typically knowledgeable regarding the standard questions posed by trustees in each case. Take the time to prepare the debtors regarding these questions, as well as potential questions which may arise in a given case depending on the contents of the papers. As the saying goes, a little preparation can go a long way.
3. Please be proactive. Reach out to the trustee if there are questions. As alluded above, if there are issues that clearly exist based on what the papers contain, touch base with the trustee and provide information necessary to address the issues and be prepared to address those issues at the hearing. Doing this will greatly enhance the efficiency of the course of the hearings.
My present sense of things is: “so far so good.” The stakeholders in this process have largely tried to make this all work, and have largely succeeded. Of course, we can all do better sometimes, and hopefully the above suggestions, along with continued good faith and cooperation, will make things work even better as we wind our way through the COVID-19 crisis.