Freivogel on Conflicts

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A key provision in the bankruptcy law relating to lawyers is 11 U.S.C. § 327(a), which provides that certain lawyers (primarily debtor's counsel and lawyer for the creditors' committee) must "not hold or represent an interest adverse to the estate, and that are disinterested persons." (Similar language appears at 11 U.S.C. § 328(c) with respect to compensation of committee representatives.)

        11 U.S.C. § 1107(a) provides that a debtor-in-possession (DIP) shall have the rights and duties of a trustee, so § 327(a) also applies to lawyers hired by DIPs.  A "disinterested person" is defined at § 101(14).  "Interest adverse to the estate" is not defined.

        When we were first discussing conflicts in the bankruptcy practice at this site in 2000, we came across several articles that attempted to make sense of these concepts: Gerald K. Smith, Conflicts of Interest in Workouts and Bankruptcy Reorganization Cases, 48 S.C.L. Rev. 793 (1997); Todd J. Zywicki, Mend It, Don't End It: The Case for Retaining the Disinterested Requirement for Debtor in Possession Professionals, 18 Miss. C.L. Rev. 291 (1998); Gerald K. Smith, Standards for the Employment of Professionals in Bankruptcy Cases: A Response to Professor Zywicki's "Case for Retaining the Disinterested Requirement for Debtor in Possession's Professionals," 18 Miss. C.L. Rev. 327 (1998); Charles W. Wolfram, The Boiling Pot of Lawyer Conflicts in Bankruptcy, 18 Miss. C.L. Rev. 383 (1998); and Todd J. Zywicki, Of Bubbling Pots and Bankruptcy Ethics: A Comment on Wolfram and Smith, 18 Miss. C.L. Rev. 399 (1998); Arthur J. Gonzalez, Conflicts of Interest and Other Ethical Issues Facing Bankruptcy Lawyers: Is Disinterestedness Necessary to Preserve the Integrity of the Bankruptcy System?, 28 Hofstra L. Rev. 67 (1999).

        Later Articles: Final Report of the American Bankruptcy Institute National Ethics Task Force (April 21, 2013) (easily Googled; start with "American Bankruptcy Institute," then click on the report link);  Kohn, Shuster & Powar, Deciphering Conflicts of Interest in Bankruptcy Representation: An Update, 105 Commercial L.J. 95 (2000); Richman, Multiple Clients in Bankruptcy Cases: When Do You Need Consent?, 21 Am. Bankr. Inst. J. 14 (March 2002); Ronald D. Rotunda, Resolving Client Conflicts by Hiring “Conflicts Counsel,” 62 Hastings L. J. 677 (2011); Milan Markovic, The Sophisticates: Conflicted Representation and the Lehman Bankruptcy, 2012 Utah L. Rev. 903 (2012); Matthew L. Warren, The Continuing Lack of Guidance on Professional Retention in Bankruptcy and its Potential Impact on Corporate Debtors' Retention of Adequate Legal Counsel, 53 Ariz. L. Rev. 533 (2011).

        Ethics Opinions. Ore. Op. 2005-86 Conflicts of Interest, Current Clients: Representing Husband and Wife in Bankruptcy, Wills, Dissolution (August 2005) (unexplained notation, "2016 Revision"); N.C. Op. 2009-11 Representing Debtor in Bankruptcy When Lender is Current Client (July 23, 2010).

        "Actual" Versus "Potential" Conflicts.  This is a rubric found in the bankruptcy cases.  The only other practice area where those concepts are used (very occasionally) is the criminal practice.  R. Craig Smith, Conflicts of Interest under the Bankruptcy Code: A Proposal to Increase Confidence in the Bankruptcy System, 8 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 1045 (1995) discusses four kinds of cases in dealing with "actual" versus "potential" conflicts: (1) cases that would disqualify or punish firms for actual conflicts only; (2) a case recognizing that a potential conflict, if significant enough, might cause a disqualification; (3) cases that find both actual and potential conflicts disqualifying; and (4) cases that recognize a  rebuttable presumption that potential conflicts are disqualifying.

        (1) Only Actual Conflicts Disqualify.  In re The Leslie Fay Companies, Inc. 175 B.R. 525 (S.D.N.Y. 1994); In re: Global Marine, Inc., 108 B.R. 998 (S.D. Tex. 1987); In re: Waterfall Village of Atlanta, Ltd., 103 B.R. 340 (N.D. Ga. 1989); and In re: Stamford Color Photo, Inc., 98 B.R. 135 (D. Conn. 1989).

        (2) Potential Conflicts Might Disqualify.  In re: Martin, 817 F.2d 175 (1st Cir. 1987).

        (3) Both Actual and Potential Conflicts Disqualify.  In re: Kendavis Ind. Int'l., Inc., 91 B.R. 742 (N.D. Tex. 1988); and Roger J. Au & Son, Inc. v. Aetna Ins. Co., 64 B.R. 600 (N.D. Ohio 1986).

        (4) Presumption that Potential Conflicts Will Disqualify.  In re BH&P Inc., 949 F.2d 1300 (3d Cir. 1991); and In re American Printers & Lithographers, Inc., 148 B.R. 862 (N.D. Ill. 1992).

        A Cautionary Note on Relying on "Actual" vs. "Potential." We are not sure how well that distinction has held up over time. In the twenty years following our early work on this site, and since the R. Craig Smith article, we have identified, and written about, some 200 cases on lawyer conflicts in bankruptcy. Only nine of those cases attempted to resolve -- to some extent -- a conflicts issue using the distinction between "actual conflict" and "potential conflict." To find them, do a word search on this page for "potential." Our observation is that the whole process has largely become: "I know it when I see it."

        Fee Forfeitures for Violations.  11 U.S.C. 328(c) provides that violations of bankruptcy conflict rules can result in fee forfeitures. There have been many, and some have been quite substantial. These are discussed, and the cases are cited, at the page entitled, "Malpractice Liability/Fee Forfeitures." (Many are discussed below, as well.)

        Disclosure and Bankruptcy Rule 2014. That rule provides that in connection with a motion to retain a lawyer, that lawyer must disclose all that lawyer's "connections with the debtor, creditors, any other party in interest . . ." The courts' attitude regarding non-compliance with that rule can best be described as humorless. When the court is informed about a potentially troublesome relationship of a lawyer by someone or something other than a timely disclosure under Rule 2014, the offending lawyer can very possibly expect a disqualification, fee disgorgement order, or worse. Do a word search on this page for "Rule 2014."

Post May 2000 Cases and Materials

This Bankruptcy page was created in May 2000. We changed the introductory material above in September 2020. What follows are those cases we found after May 2000. We may have missed some, but not many. With a few exceptions the items below were added consecutively by date.

        $13 Million Fee Forfeiture from Conflict.  In re Congoleum Corp., 03-51524 (D.N.J. Feb. 7, 2006).  This is taken from the February 13, 2006, online edition of the New Jersey Law Journal.  A bankruptcy judge ordered 45-lawyer Gilbert Heintz & Randolph LLP to forfeit some $13 million in fees for failure to disclose all its relationships to the various parties when it was retained as “special insurance counsel” for the debtor.  The relationships are complex, and we will not go through them here.  The lessons are clear enough.  The case was on remand from the Third Circuit, In re Congoleum, 426 F.3d 675 (3d Cir. 2005).

        On the Role of Examiners.  In re: Big Rivers Electric Corp., 355 F.3d 415 (6th Cir. 2004).  This is a very large Chapter 11 Bankruptcy proceeding.  The bankruptcy court appointed an examiner, one of whose tasks was to see if he could resolve disputes among the creditors and other parties.  The examiner, a lawyer, identified ways to enhance the estate, and, according to the court, he was successful.  But, he secretly attempted to cut a deal with three creditors for a percentage of any recovery they might realize from the estate.  Two creditors rebuffed his overture.  A third ultimately agreed.  The opinion (and the story) is a long one.  The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the examiner must forfeit his entire fee of approximately $1 million.  The opinion is a comprehensive discussion of the role and obligations of bankruptcy examiners, including, importantly, his/her obligation to remain “disinterested.”

        Differences between General Counsel under § 327(a) and Special Counsel under § 327(e).  In re Running Horse, L.L.C., 371 B.R. 446 (E.D. Cal. 2007).  Debtor sought to retain Lawyer as “special counsel” to the estate under § 327(e) of the Bankruptcy Act.  In this opinion the court denied the application.  The court felt that the duties described for Lawyer were too close to those prescribed in § 327(a).  Because that section requires that the lawyer be “disinterested,” and because Lawyer represented other parties involved, Lawyer was not qualified to serve in the designated role.  [Note: the opinion is a pretty good description of the differences between lawyers acting as “general counsel” and “special counsel.”]

        Structuring Role as Counsel for Unsecured Creditors Committee to Avoid Conflict Claims.  Exco Resources, Inc. v. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy LLP (In re Enron Corp.), 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1442 (S.D.N.Y. February 3, 2003).  Milbank was hired as counsel for the official Committee of Unsecured Creditors in the Enron bankruptcy.  One of the creditors of the estate, Exco, moved to disqualify Milbank.  The bankruptcy judge denied the motion, and in this opinion, the district judge affirmed.  Exco predicated its motion on the many relationships Milbank had, and has, with entities having interests in Enron, Enron affiliates, and the Enron estate.  The motion also claims that Milbank’s disclosures regarding these relationships were not adequate.  These relationships are too complex to detail here.  In denying the motion, the court did an analysis of the disclosure requirements of Bankruptcy Rule 2014(a), and the conflict-of-interest provisions of 11 U.S.C. §§ 101, 327, 328 & 1103.  The court also approved of a system using “ethical walls” and conflicts counsel to monitor situations that might require employment of other counsel.  For a similar analysis regarding debtor’s counsel, see In re Washington Mut., Inc., 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 56 (D. Del. Jan. 7, 2011).  However, in In re Project Orange Associates, LLC, No. 10-12307 (MG) (S.D.N.Y. June 23, 2010), the court rejected the conflicts counsel approach because of the importance of the creditor in question to the resolution of the bankruptcy.

        Ronald D. Rotunda, Resolving Client Conflicts by Hiring "Conflicts Counsel," 62 Hastings L.J. 677 (2011).

        Debtor's Counsel: What if Clients Are Creditors?  ABCNY Op. 2005-1 (Jan. 2005).  This opinion deals with pro bono representation of individuals filing Chapter 7 proceedings.  The interesting conflict-of-interest discussion is whether a lawyer can do this if several of his other clients are listed as creditors.  The opinion says this is not a conflict unless and until the creditor takes some action in the case, such as objecting to the debtor’s discharge.

         Debtor's Counsel Taking Stock in Lieu of Fee.  In re: ALTA+CAST, LLC, 2004 Bankr. LEXIS 222 (March 2, 2004).  In this Chapter 11 proceeding the debtor did not have enough cash to pay debtor’s counsel.  Debtor’s counsel agreed to take stock in the debtor as part of his fee.  The court held that this arrangement did not render debtor’s counsel not disinterested.

        Debtor's Counsel Denied Fees for Failure to Disclose Intent to Invest in Debtor.  In re West Delta Oil Co., Inc., Debtor, 432 F.3d 347 (5th Cir. 2005).  Debtor’s special counsel had, at some point, considered being part of an investor group to put money into debtor.  That apparently never happened.  They did not disclose this relationship to the court when they were retained to represent the debtor.  Nevertheless, and over the objection of one of the parties, the Bankruptcy Court allowed their fees.  The district judge affirmed, pointing out that a conflict does not mandate denial of fees and that the Bankruptcy Court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the fees.  In this opinion the Fifth Circuit reversed.  The opinion contains a lengthy analysis of the conflict rules as they apply to debtor’s counsel.

         Lawyer Taking Real Estate in Lieu of a Fee Just Prior to Filing.  In re Wentzell, 656 N.W.2d 402 (Minn. 2003).  Lawyer disciplinary proceeding.  Just prior to his client’s filing for bankruptcy, the lawyer had the client convey property to the lawyer in payment of fees the client owed the lawyer.  The lawyer was disciplined because his disclosures to the bankruptcy court were inadequate and because of misstatements the lawyer made in connection with the conveyance.  [Note: we have been asked by law firms about taking real estate from nearly-insolvent clients in payment of fees.  While it certainly may be possible, it should be done extremely carefully, with due regard for the law of preferences, fraudulent conveyances, and the bankruptcy disclosure rules for conflicts of interest.]

        Lawyer/Creditor May not Represent Chapter 12 Debtor.  In re Brown, 354 B.R. 535 (N.D. Okl. 2006).

        In re Development Corp. of Plymouth, 283 B.R. 464 (E.D. Mich. 2002).  A law firm represented party A in suing Party B and obtained a $2.4 million verdict on behalf of A.  B filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.  The trustee for B's bankruptcy estate applied to retain A's law firm to represent the trustee in pursuing actions against various defendants.  Parties to the bankruptcy objected, claiming the law firm had a conflict under 11 U.S.C. § 327(a).  The court approved the firm's retention saying that the firm's interest in collecting A's judgment was entirely consistent with the trustee's attempts to enhance the estate via the new suits.

        In re Pillowtex, 304 F.3d 246 (3d Cir. 2002).  The district court had approved retention of debtor’s counsel over the objection of the U.S. Trustee.  The debtor had paid the law firm about $1 million in fees, in several installments, within the 90 days prior to the bankruptcy filing.  The Trustee claimed that at least some of the payments were avoidable preferences and that the law firm could not claim that it was “disinterested.”  The law firm proposed that the district court approve its retention on condition that if any payments were later proved to be preferential, the law firm would reimburse the estate.  The Third Circuit reversed the district court and remanded for a determination whether, in fact, any of the payments were preferential.

        Incomplete Affidavit under Rule 2014 not Cured by other Filings.  In re Jennings, 2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 24746 (11th Cir. Oct. 4, 2006).

        In re Pittsburgh Corning Corp., Debtor, 308 B.R. 716 (W.D. Pa. 2004).  This was an opinion and order denying an application to appoint a law firm as special counsel to a creditors’ committee.  The relationships are complex and not worth detailing here.  Suffice it to say, it is a wide-ranging discussion of the law dealing with law firms that may be perceived to be changing sides in the context of insurance representations.

        Tevis v. Wilke, Fleury, Hoffelt, Gould & Birney, LLP, 347 B.R. 679 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. 2006).  The court found that trustee’s counsel was not disinterested because the debtors had earlier interviewed the law firm about representing them.

        ICM Notes , Ltd. v. Andrews & Kurth, L.L.P., 278 B.R. 117 (S.D. Tex. 2002).  Andrews & Kurth represented the debtor in possession.  ICM Notes was formed to purchase notes held by a creditor, NationsBank.  NewCorp was formed to purchase certain assets of the debtor in possession.  Andrews & Kurth made certain demands regarding funds for administrative expenses, and the sale never occurred.  ICM Notes sued Andrews & Kurth for breach of fiduciary duty to it and for tortious interference with the sale contract.  Andrews & Kurth moved for summary judgment.  After a lengthy analysis the court held that counsel for the debtor in possession can owe no fiduciary duty to a specific creditor and granted that part of the motion.  The court held that there was some evidence to support the tortious interference claim and allowed it to stand.

        Stanley v. Keravision, Inc. (In re Keravision, Inc.), 273 B.R. 614 (N.D. Cal. 2002).  The court held that a law firm could serve as debtor’s counsel even though one of the partners had been the bankrupt’s corporate secretary until three months before the filing.  The court held that the law firm was not thereby “not disinterested,” within the meaning of 11 U.S.C. § 327(a).

       In re Andover Togs, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2690 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).  This case involves whether the Debtor can hire an accounting firm.  Of the three issues, two would also apply to lawyers.  The accounting firm was an unsecured creditor of the Debtor for pre-petition work.  The Debtor sought to retain the accounting firm to complete an audit it had already begun, relying upon 11 U.S.C. §§ 327(e), 105(a) & 1107(b).  The court said no.  First, the court held 11 U.S.C. § 327(e) applies only to lawyers, not to accountants.  Second, the court held that the Debtor could not rely on the catchall provisions of 11 U.S.C. § 105(a), because 11 U.S.C. § 327(e) is "specific and unambiguous."  Last, the court held that no professional could be hired pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 1107(b), if the professional was "not disinterested."  An unsecured creditor is not disinterested.  See KLM, below.

        In re Doctors Hospital of Hyde Park, Inc., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2051 (E.D. Ill. 2001).  Unsecured creditors committee sought to employ American Express as accountants and financial advisors.  Among other things, they were to consult regarding a possible claim against a physician.  The physician objected to the retention of American Express, because a low-level accountant at American Express had once worked on the physician's tax returns.  When American Express found out about this relationship, it erected a screen around the accountant.  The court overruled the objection and allowed the retention of American Express.  The court cited only one case, In re Capen Wholesale, 184 B.R. 547 (N.D. Ill. 1995), in which the court refused to disqualify a lawyer under similar circumstances.

        In re Water's Edge Limited Partnership, 251 B.R. 1 (D. Mass. 2000).  The court allowed a law firm to represent the debtor in possession even though the law firm had earlier briefly represented an individual who had attempted to gain control of the debtor in possession. 

        In re LKM Industries, Inc., 252 B.R. 589 (D. Mass. 2000).  The court held that the debtor in possession could not hire an accountant who was a creditor of the estate by virtue of his pre-petition work for the debtor.  The court said:

I conclude that § 1107(b) excludes only previous employment, and not a debt arising therefrom, as cause per se for disqualification. . . By virtue of the debt [the accountant] is a creditor and therefore not a disinterested person.

To the same effect is In re PHP Healthcare Corp., 2002 Bankr. LEXIS 449 (D. Del. May 7, 2002).

        Kittay v. Kornstein, 230 F.3d 531 (2d Cir. 2000).  This case dealt with a conflict not unique to the bankruptcy practice.  A special counsel for the debtor also represented a party ("Party X") in a completely different matter seeking to recover substantial funds from a person and entity that the debtor also had a claim against.  The court resolved the conflict by ordering any recovery from Party X to be paid into escrow in the bankruptcy court, where the court ruled it would apportion the proceeds between the bankruptcy estate and Party X.  The case is discussed in more detail at "Current Client - Direct Adversity."  To go there, click here.

        Seibers v. Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co., 2000 Tenn. App. LEXIS 818 (Tenn. App. December 21, 2000). Jared represented Seibers in a personal injury claim against Pepsi-Cola.  At the same time he filed a proof of claim on behalf of a creditor of Seibers in Seibers' Chapter 13 proceeding.  Jared later made a fee claim against Seibers.  Seibers claimed that Jared had had a conflict of interest and that denial of the fee should be the penalty.  The court held that Jared did have a conflict, but allowed Jared to collect the fee.  The court based its holding on Seibers' delay in raising the conflict and his inability to show how the conflict hurt him.

        Sanctions for Conflict.  In Re Kujawa, 256 B.R. 598 (8th Cir. 2000).  A lawyer appeared for creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding in which the lawyer's client was the debtor.  The debtor successfully moved to disqualify the lawyer.  The Bankruptcy Court awarded fees to the debtor of $65,000 (cost of the disqualification battle) and an addition sanction against the lawyer of $100,000.  The District Court affirmed.  The Bankruptcy Panel of the Eighth Circuit affirmed, saying that the sanction was appropriate under the court's inherent power to punish lawyers.  The opinion does not say whether the court treated the matter as one involving a current client or former client.  The court mentions neither Rule 1.7, which deals with current clients,  nor Rule 1.9, which deals with former clients.

        In re Von Behren Electric, Inc., 2002 Bankr. LEXIS 1463 (C.D. Ill. December 23, 2002).  The court denied compensation to debtor’s counsel because he had begun putting the interests of the debtor’s principals over that of the debtor.  The court reached that conclusion because debtor’s counsel admitted billing some time separately to the debtor’s principals.  The opinion does not specify what debtor’s counsel did to favor the principals.  [According to the local newspaper, the Trustee reported to the court that the debtor’s principals may have diverted company funds and property to themselves just prior to the bankruptcy filing.  Also, according to article, debtor’s counsel was denying the allegations on behalf of the principals.  Natalie Morris, Criminal Investigation Possible for Von Behrens, The State-Journal Register (Springfield, Ill.), Nov. 4, 2002.]

        Failure to Disclose “No Litigation” Exception in Waiver. In re Jore Corp., 298 B.R. 703 (D. Mont. 2003). Law Firm represented Debtor. Law Firm also represented Debtor’s principal creditor in unrelated matters, which Law Firm disclosed to the court pursuant to Rule 2014(a). What Law Firm did not disclose was that the conflicts waiver it obtained from its creditor client had a “no litigation” exception. Belatedly, after a dispute erupted between the creditor and Law Firm in this case, Law Firm mentioned the “no litigation” exception in a court filing. The bankruptcy court in this opinion ordered Law Firm disqualified and ordered disgorgement of all fees and almost all expenses.

        Creditors' Committee Allowed to Sue Derivatively.  In re Cybergenics Corp., 330 F.3d 548 (3d Cir. 2003).  The court held that a creditors' committee could bring fraudulent conveyance proceedings for the estate where the debtor in possession declined to do so.  The court distinguished Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Union Planters Bank, N.A., 530 U.S. 1 (2000), which disallowed such an action in a Chapter 7 case.  The court noted that both the Second and Seventh Circuits have reached the same result.

       In re Gutierrez, 309 B.R. 488 (W.D. Tex. 2004).  The entire thrust of the opinion is captured by the following paragraph:

For all of the foregoing reasons, the court finds that the attorney who has represented a debtor in a prior chapter 13 case will not be disqualified from representing the debtor in a subsequent case simply by virtue of the existence and assertion of a claim for unpaid fees from the previous case. The state bar rules do not impose such a per se rule, and, even if such a per se rule could be divined from section 327(a), it would not apply in the chapter 13 context because section 327(a) does not control the retention of debtor's counsel in a chapter 13 case.?

        Lawyer May Represent Estate and Creditor Where Conflict not "Actual."  In re Johnson, 312 B.R. 810 (E.D. Va. 2004).  Law Firm represented a creditor in this bankruptcy case.  The trustee then sought, and obtained, leave to retain Law Firm as special counsel.  Later, over objection, the Bankruptcy Court granted Law Firm's fee petition for work done for the estate.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed, holding that a lawyer for the debtor and for a creditor does not necessarily have an "actual" conflict of interest.  The court noted that here there was not an actual conflict because Law Firm's interest, both on behalf of the estate and the creditor/client, was to maximize the value of the estate.

        Just Plain Ugly Conflict.  In re Gary Mercury, Debtor, 2004 U.S. App. LEXIS 25481 (2d Cir. Dec. 10, 2004).  This was the denial of fees to a law firm based upon a conflict of interest.  The court laid out the basis for the denial eloquently, as follows:

It is undisputed that the Fellows firm (1) advised the Mercurys to enter Chapter 7, (2) advised the Mercurys to engage in mediation of their personal injury claim, (3) reassured the Mercurys that they would not be bound by the result of the mediation, (4) informed the Mercurys only after the mediation that they could, in fact, be bound by its result because the Chapter 7 trustee was in control of their claim, and (5) recommended to the trustee that she accept the settlement proposed by the mediator and accepted by the insurer over the Mercurys' objection. As the bankruptcy court pointed out, the firm confuses the duty it had to its clients with some imagined duty it believed it had to the claim. See In re Mercury, 280 B.R. 35, 61 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. 2002). Recognizing that the Mercurys did not wish to accept the proposed settlement, the firm was obligated either to oppose the trustee's effort to secure court approval of the settlement, or to seek to withdraw from the matter altogether.?

        Lousy Application to Become Debtor's Counsel.  In re EZ Links Golf, LLC, Debtor, 2004 Bankr. LEXIS 1956 (D. Col. Dec. 6, 2004).  This is a Chapter 11 case involving the appointment of debtor’s counsel.  The opinion has no precedential value, but may have some educational value.  The debtor’s sole owner was Corporation A.  Corporation B owns 80% of the Corporation A.  An individual, X, owns 50% of Corporation B.  X is the sole beneficiary of a family trust, which owns a bank.  The bank holds a $1.1 million note from debtor.  Moreover, in 2002 the debtor conveyed all its assets to Corporation A.  A law firm that represented various of the foregoing interests sought to be appointed debtor’s counsel.  The law firm’s initial application was pathetically deficient in identifying these relationships.  When the court became aware of some of these deficiencies, it ordered the law firm to file an amended application.  The amended application, while better, was still pretty bad.  As a result, the court denied the law firm’s application to be debtor’s counsel.

       In re Coal River Resources, Inc., 321 B.R. 184 (W.D. Va. 2005).  Four corporations, all owned and controlled by the same person, are being administered jointly in this Chapter 11 proceeding.  All four petitioned the court for leave to hire the same law firm as debtor’s counsel.  The court affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s ruling that the law firm could represent just two of the companies.  This was because various of the companies owed others substantial amounts of money and because of substantial inconsistencies in the way each company accounted for these debts.

        In re R&R Associates of Hampton, 402 F.3d 257 (1st Cir. 2005).  The Chapter 7 trustee of Debtor, R&R, brought a malpractice action against the law firm that had previously represented R&R in the preceding Chapter 11 proceeding.  R&R had two individual general partners (“the partners).  The law firm created family limited partnerships for the partners to assist the partners in avoiding creditors while at the same time petitioning the Bankruptcy Court for leave to be Debtor’s Counsel.  The law firm claimed it had no conflicts of interest and that it was “disinterested.”  The law firm did not disclose the work it had done, and was doing, for the partners.  The district court held that the law firm was not liable to the Chapter 7 estate.  The First Circuit reversed outright, holding that the law firm should have been pursuing R&R’s contribution rights against the partners, that the law firm’s conflicts constituted breaches of fiduciary duty, and that the law firm was liable to R&R under New Hampshire state law.  The court also found outright that the damages were $412,000.

        When Law Firm Ineligible to be Debtor's Counsel Can Be Debtor's "Special Counsel."  In re Woodworkers Warehouse, Inc., 323 B.R. 403 (D. Del. 2005).  The Bankruptcy Court had disqualified Law Firm from being Debtor’s Counsel in this proceeding.  Subsequently, the Debtor moved to have Law Firm appointed “special counsel” for the purpose of conducting tasks such as:

      (1) obtaining court approval for the use of its cash collateral, (2) selling assets through a "going out of business sale" and disposing of related executory contracts, and (3) preparing and negotiating the Debtor's key employee retention program and providing payment to critical personnel of the Debtor.

        The United States Trustee objected, claiming that appointing Law Firm for these purposes would be a circumvention of the order denying Law Firm the status of Debtor’s Counsel.  The court overruled the objection finding that Law Firm’s functions would not constitute “conducting the case” within the meaning of Section 327(e) of the Bankruptcy Code.

        Appealability of Order Approving Appointment of Special Counsel.  In re M.T.G., Inc., 403 F.3d 410 (6th Cir. 2005).  Chapter 7.  The bankruptcy judge denied the trustee’s application to employ a lawyer as special counsel.  The district judge reversed the denial and sent the matter back to the bankruptcy judge.  A former trustee filed this appeal.  The Sixth Circuit in this opinion held that the district judge’s order was interlocutory and not of the sort of interlocutory order that can be appealed as of right.

        In re Big Mac Marine, Inc., 326 B.R. 150 (8th Cir. Bankr. App. Panel 2005).  Individuals A and B owned the stock in Co. C.  A and B filed a Chapter 11 proceeding for themselves, with Lawyer X as debtors’ counsel.  This is a separate proceeding involving Co. C as debtor.  Lawyer X attempted to be approved as debtor’s counsel for Co. C in this proceeding.  However, because A and B were Co. C’s largest creditor, the district court and this court held that X was not disinterested and had a conflict.  The court reasoned that in the A and B proceeding, A and B, represented by X, would be trying to maximize their recovery from Co. C in this proceeding.  Yet, debtor’s counsel in this proceeding would be charged with evaluating claims and seeing that all creditors were treated fairly.  This, the court held, X could not do.

        Representing Driver and Passengers in Injury Case Results in Fee Denial.  In re Bruno, 327 B.R. 104 (E.D.N.Y. 2005).  A, B, and C were passengers in a car driven by D.  They had an accident.  Law Firm X filed an action on behalf of A, B, C, and D.  A then filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  The trustee filed an application to retain Firm X to represent the bankruptcy estate in the injury case.  A member of Firm X filed an affidavit stating that Firm X did not have a conflict.  On the eve of trial another member of Firm X wrote a letter to the court seeking leave to withdraw from representing the estate because Firm X had a conflict.  Firm X was immediately replaced with Firm Y.  Firm Y tried the case, and before the jury came in with a verdict, Firm Y negotiated a settlement on behalf of the estate.  The trustee made a motion to pay the full contingent fee to Firm Y.  Firm X objected claiming it should get most of the fee.  The court allowed Firm Y to receive the full fee.  The court found that Firm X had a conflict in representing the driver and the passengers, that Firm X did not obtain a knowing waiver of the conflict, and that the Firm violated Bankruptcy Rule 2014 in not disclosing the representation of the driver when Firm X was retained by the estate.

        Failure to Disclose Conflicts Cause Partial Fee Forfeiture for Debtor's Counsel and for Creditors' Committee Counsel.  In re EToys, Inc., 331 B.R. 176 (D. Del. 2005).

        Representing Multiple Debtors and Inter-Debtor Disputes.  In re Adelphia Communications Corp., 336 B.R. 610 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).  Law Firm represented 231 debtors, all related to Adelphia, in this Chapter 11 proceeding.  Certain creditors moved to disqualify Law Firm from representing certain of the debtors and any debtors in any inter-debtor disputes.  The Bankruptcy Court held that Law Firm would have to step aside during resolution of inter-debtor disputes.  The district judge affirmed at In re Adelphia Communications Corp., 342 B.R. 122 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).

        Can't Represent First Lien Creditors in Chapter 11 if Represented Second Lien Creditor Pre-Petition.  In re Meridian Automotive Systems-Composite Operations, Inc., 340 B.R. 740 (D. Del. 2006).  Law Firm did work for Creditor A in part to protect Creditor A’s second lien status with Meridian, ultimately the Debtor in Possession in this bankruptcy proceeding.  Before the bankruptcy, Creditor A stopped using Law Firm.  During the bankruptcy an informal committee of first lien creditors (“Committee”) hired Law Firm to assist Committee in the bankruptcy.  Creditor A moved to disqualify Law Firm, and in this opinion the Bankruptcy Judge granted the motion.  The opinion contains a lengthy discussion of the “substantial relationship” test, but the crux of the court’s reasoning is this sentence:

The legal advice which [Law Firm] is now providing to the [Committee] concerns the same intercreditor issues, only this time [Law Firm] is advising the first lien creditors how to protect themselves from the second lien creditors, including [Creditor A, Law Firm’s former client].

        In re Contractor Tech., LTD, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34466 (S.D. Tex. May 30, 2006).  Chapter 7.  The trustee sought to hire Law Firm as special counsel to investigate and prosecute avoidance claims against creditors.  Law Firm represented eight of the 400 creditors of the estate.  For that reason the largest creditor of the estate objected to the hiring of Law Firm.  The bankruptcy judge approved Law Firm, but provided that Law Firm was not to be involved in investigating or prosecuting avoidance claims against any of its eight clients.  The record also reflected that, with near certainty, no post-petition payments had been made to any of the eight clients.  On appeal the district judge sustained the bankruptcy judge’s order, holding that Law Firm had no “actual” conflict of interest and that it was disinterested.

        Harrington v. Kapila, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87133 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 30, 2006).  Lawyer represented Debtor when Debtor filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy and continued to represent Debtor while in Chapter 11.  Later Lawyer filed for Debtor a Chapter 7 petition.  When that was granted, Trustee was appointed and hired another law firm.  When Trustee filed an adversary proceeding against Debtor’s 60-percent shareholder, Lawyer appeared for the shareholder.  Trustee moved to disqualify Lawyer, and the court, in this opinion, granted the motion, using a standard Rule 1.9 analysis.

        Conflict Resulting from Defective Pre-petition Opinion Letter.  In re SonicBlue, Inc., 2007 Bankr. LEXIS 1057 (N.D. Cal. March 26, 2007).  This is a brief summary of a very complex case.  In this rather harsh opinion the bankruptcy judge ordered debtor’s counsel (“Law Firm“) disqualified.  For some years Law Firm had represented debtor in numerous pre-petition matters.  One matter was debtor’s issuance of notes to several investors.  In the third-party opinion to the investors Law Firm had omitted the bankruptcy exception from part of the remedies opinion.  Post-petition the investors threatened to sue Law Firm if they failed to recover all their investments.  Law Firm failed to notify the court of the original transaction or the investors’ threat.  The U.S. Trustee moved to have the firm disqualified, and the court granted the motion.  The conflict was that the law firm found itself in the position of evaluating claims, knowing that if the claims of the investors were allowed, the law firm’s exposure to the investors would be reduced.  The court held the “disgorgement of fees” issue for a later date.

        Good Discussion of Fraud on the Court, which Led to Vacating Several Orders Favorable to Secured Creditor.  In re M.T.G., Inc., 366 B.R. 730 (E.D. Mich. 2007).

        Lawyer for Debtors' Children's Spendthrift Trusts Could Also Be Debtors' Counsel.  In re Marble, 2007 Bankr. LEXIS 1743 (N.D. Tex. May 25, 2007).  The debtors-in-possession in this Chapter 11 proceeding sought to employ Law Firm as debtors‘ counsel.  The United States Trustee objected because Law Firm represented spendthrift trusts set up by debtors for their children.  The court could not find a conflict and granted the debtors’ petition “without prejudice” to the rights of any creditor to raise any conflict that might arise in the future.

        In re The Brown Schools, 368 B.R. 394 (D. Del. 2007).  This opinion dealt with a motion to dismiss, so we should not make too much of it at this stage.  Nevertheless, it is illustrative of what a bankruptcy trustee can allege against the former law firm for the debtor.  The claims here included breach of fiduciary duty (motion denied), aiding and abetting a breach of fiduciary duty (motion granted with leave to replead), aiding and abetting a fraudulent transfer (motion granted with leave to replead), deepening insolvency (motion denied pending further developments in the Delaware courts),  civil conspiracy (motion granted with leave to replead), and a declaratory finding that the law firm’s claim for fees should be subordinated (motion granted - no mention of repleading).  As to deepening insolvency the bankruptcy judge said that the opinion in Trenwick Am. Litig. Trust v. Ernst & Young, L.L.P., 906 A.2d 168 (Del. Ch. 2006), was “well reasoned,” but she denied the motion pending a decision by the Delaware Supreme Court.

        Discussion of "Potential" vs. "Actual" Conflicts.  In re Hammer, BAP No. WW-06-1373-MoDJ, (9th Cir. Bankr. Appeals Panel Aug. 17, 2007).  This is a fact-intensive matter, in which a law firm attempted to be debtor’s counsel while at the same time representing a city, which had claims against the debtor, and against which the debtor might have a claim.  The law firm had been sloppy in its conflicts checking and in complying with its disclosure obligations to the court.  The court discussed the “potential” versus “actual” conflict dichotomy recognized by some courts and concluded that it is really a question of semantics.  Either the law firm might be influenced by its dual relationship or not, depending upon the facts.  Upon remand to the district court the Panel ordered the district court to determine periods for which fees must be denied and to determine whether the law firm can continue as debtor’s counsel.  [Note: anyone having trouble retrieving the opinion online should send an E-mail to, and we will send a PDF.]

        Partial Fee Forfeiture for Failure to Disclose Relationships.  In re Matco Electronics Group, Inc., 2008 WL 141908 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2008).  In an application to be counsel to creditors’ committee Law Firm failed to disclose that a lawyer in Law Firm (“Lawyer”) was the son-in-law of the CEO and President of a major creditor of the estate.  After Law Firm’s appointment Lawyer’s wife became in-house counsel to that same creditor.  As a result of the failure to disclose the court, in this opinion, ordered that Law Firm forfeit a portion of its fees.

        Tenth Circuit's Approach to § 327(a) and Rule 2014In re Harwell, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9629 (D. Col. Jan. 25, 2008).  Bankruptcy.  Debtor objected to Lawyer’s appointment as counsel to the Chapter 7 trustee.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed the bankruptcy judge’s overruling the objection.  The merits are trifling, but the opinion contains a nice discussion of how the Tenth Circuit deals with § 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Act and Rule 2014 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure.

        Trustee Could Hire Special Counsel who Represented Creditors when the Estate Has Interests Identical to the Creditors.  In re Winterville Marine Services, Inc., 2008 Bankr. LEXIS 1112 (N.D. Miss. April 16, 2008).  Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  Trustee sought to employ Law Firm as special counsel pursuant to §327(a) of the Bankruptcy Act to bring an adversary action against other parties.  Several parties objected because Law Firm represented several creditors of the estate.  The court approved the appointment because the interests of the estate and Law Firm’s other clients were identical.

        Another Special Counsel Case.  In re Buffalo Coal Co., 2008 Bankr. LEXIS 1259 (N.D. W. Va. April 30, 2008).  Chapter 7 trustee sought to retain Law Firm for the purpose of suing VEPCO.  While this proceeding was under Chapter 11, Law Firm represented the creditors’ committee.  VEPCO was a member of the committee.  Several parties objected to retention of Law Firm because of this relationship.  After a confusing discussion of Bankruptcy Act § 327(a), (c), & (e), the court allowed the retention.  Among other things, the court said that Law Firm’s representation of the creditors’ committee was not tantamount to representation of VEPCO.  The court also said that any information Law Firm may have obtained from VEPCO while representing the creditors’ committee would eventually come to light in the case between the debtor and VEPCO.

        In re Tri-State Financial, LLC, 2008 U.S. App. LEXIS 10236 (8th Cir. May 13, 2008).  In this opinion the court held that, under §327(c) of the Bankruptcy Act, the trustee could retain a lawyer who represented a creditor if the representation was disclosed and if any dispute that arose between the estate and that creditor was handled by a different lawyer. 

        In re Buffalo Coal Co., 2008 Bankr. LEXIS 1259 (N.D. W. Va. April 30, 2008).  Chapter 7 trustee sought to retain Law Firm for the purpose of suing VEPCO.  While this proceeding was under Chapter 11, Law Firm represented the creditors’ committee.  VEPCO was a member of the committee.  Several parties objected to retention of Law Firm because of this relationship.  After a confusing discussion of Bankruptcy Act § 327(a), (c), & (e), the court allowed the retention.  Among other things, the court said that Law Firm’s representation of the creditors’ committee was not tantamount to representation of VEPCO.  The court also said that any information Law Firm may have obtained from VEPCO while representing the creditors’ committee would eventually come to light in the case between the debtor and VEPCO.

        In re El Comandante Mg'mt Co., LLC, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69696 (D.P.R. Sept. 2, 2008).  This is a proceeding to determine whether debtor's counsel ("Law Firm") should be denied fees because of its alleged conflict of interest (not being disinterested).  Bank was an important client of Law Firm on matters not related to this bankruptcy.  In October 2004 Bank made a commitment to provide financing to Company so Company could buy the debtor's assets.  When the asset purchase took place in January 2007 Law Firm withdrew as debtor's counsel, disclosing for the first time on the record that Law Firm represented Bank on other matters.  The objector to Law Firm's fees claimed that Law Firm should have made the disclosure when Bank made the loan commitment in October 2004.  The bankruptcy judge allowed the fees.  A magistrate judge ruled that the bankruptcy judge should be affirmed.  In this opinion the district judge agreed holding that Bank's merely making a financing commitment to a party to enable the future sale of the debtor's assets was not enough adversity to trigger Law Firm's disclosure obligation.

        Honarkar v. GSM Wireless, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 72840 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 22, 2008).  In this Chapter 11 proceeding the debtor sought to hire Law Firm as special counsel to handle three discreet matters that debtor's counsel was not equipped to handle.  Law Firm had a lawyer-client relationship with Cingular on matters unrelated to this proceeding.  Cingular was a major creditor and business partner with the debtor; however, the matters for which Law Firm was being hired as special counsel did not relate to Cingular's claims against the estate.  Law Firm did defend the debtor in a case in which the debtor and Cingular were co-defendants, and in which the debtor and Cingular were not adverse.  Over objections of one of the parties the bankruptcy court granted permission to hire Law Firm and approved fees incurred prior to the request.  There were also issues about the lateness of the application and the fact that Law Firm had done substantial work before the application was filed.

        Bankruptcy of Calogheros, 2008 BCSC 1578 (CanLII) (S. Ct. of B.C. Nov. 17, 2008).  This is an intense family squabble that led to the bankruptcy of one member of that family.  Law Firm wound up representing the debtor and, at one time or another, representing several different members of the family, some of whom are also creditors.  A further aggravating factor is that one of Law Firm's clients submitted false evidence.  The various relationships and misconduct were too fact-intensive (and too petty) to be of value to this audience.  Suffice it to say, the court found it all a bit much and disqualified Law Firm.

        Conflict and Fraud on Court.  In re M.T.G., Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3008 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 14, 2009).  Shortly after being appointed trustee Lawyer agreed with a principal creditor ("Bank") to have his firm, for a fee, analyze and protect Bank's secured property.  In subsequent proceedings involving orders benefiting Bank Lawyer failed to disclose to the court the agreement with Bank.  Once the bankruptcy court became aware of Lawyer's relationship with Bank, it found that Lawyer had committed a fraud on the court, ordered Lawyer's fees forfeited, and ordered that the orders benefiting Bank be vacated.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed the bankruptcy court.  The opinion is a lengthy discussion of what must be shown to establish a fraud on the court.

        In re Campbell, 2009 Ore. LEXIS 6 (Ore. Feb. 5, 2009).  This case involves the discipline of Lawyer.  Lawyer had represented a debtor in a Chapter 13 proceeding.  It became a Chapter 7 proceeding.  The new trustee hired Lawyer as special counsel to handle a dispute over security claims by several creditors.  At the time of his appointment Lawyer was owed some $20,000 from his work for the debtor.  The trustee settled one of the security claims, the terms of which Lawyer didn't like.  So, Lawyer resigned as special counsel and commenced representing several other estate claimants in contesting the settlement.  Disciplinary authorities determined that Lawyer should be suspended because of Lawyer's conflict.  In this opinion the court affirmed and ordered Lawyer suspended for 60 days.  (This was one of two unrelated charges against Lawyer.)  The court held that serving as special counsel while being an administrative creditor was not a conflict.  However, the court held that turning on the trustee over the settlement was a conflict.  The court applied the older Oregon Code because the above conduct occurred before the new Oregon Rules were adopted.

        In re Restaurant Development Group, Inc., 2009 Bankr. LEXIS 529 (N.D. Ill. Mr. 24, 2009).  This is a Chapter 7 proceeding, in which the debtor is a restaurant company.  Law Firm represented the debtor in its Chapter 7 filing and, evidently, continues as the debtor's counsel.  The trustee, through his own counsel, has filed adversary proceeding against a number of companies and individuals, including the debtor's principals.  Law Firm represents several of these persons and entities in the adversary proceedings.  The bankruptcy judge raised, sua sponte, the issue of Law Firm's conflict.  The trustee declined to pursue the issue.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge declined to disqualify Law Firm as to any of its representations relating to this case.

        In re Jade Mgm't Services, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42863 (D.V.I. May 20, 2009).  Of interest to this audience is the following holding:

This court finds that the balance of authorities as well as plain language of Section 328(c) give the Bankruptcy Division discretion to grant or deny compensation, even to an attorney who was not "disinterested" when appointed.?
        Special Counsel's Failure to Disclose Relationships Fatal to Fee Application.  In re Perez, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60511 (D. Col. July 7, 2009).  When retained as special counsel, Lawyer did not disclose the fact that he was representing Debtor's husband and three companies owned by Debtor in a related state court proceeding.  A creditor objected to Lawyer's fee application, and, in this opinion, the district judge affirmed the bankruptcy judge's order denying fees.  The court noted that the denial was not because the state court representation was a conflict of interest, but because of the failure to disclose it.  Both courts seemed offended that Lawyer also failed to disclose that the other defendants in state court were getting a "free ride" because Lawyer planned on being paid by the bankruptcy estate.

        In re Trafalgar Power Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114770 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2009).  In ruling on a request to amend the fee agreement of debtor's special counsel the court noted that a conflict of interest does not necessarily result from the debtor's owner paying the fees of debtor's counsel.

        In re Raymond Professional Group, Inc., 2009 Bankr. LEXIS 4031 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 17, 2009).  This proceeding involves several related debtors.  Among various disputes, one count of one action involves the claim of two of those debtors to a certain fund.  One of those debtors was the wholly-owned subsidiary of the other.  A creditor involved in that dispute moved to disqualify the law firm ("Law Firm") that was attempting to represent both debtors.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge disqualified Law Firm as to the one count in question, because Law Firm had an "actual conflict."  The outcome was very fact-specific, so we hesitate to say much more about it.  The opinion contains discussions of "actual" vs. "potential" conflicts, substantive consolidation, as well as other issues, with many references to Seventh Circuit and Northern District of Illinois cases.

        In re Polaroid Corp., 2010 Bankr. LEXIS 146 (D. Minn. Jan. 22, 2010).  The trustee in this Chapter 7 proceeding sought to employ Law Firm as special counsel to handle a finite matter.  The trustee had hired another law firm as general counsel.  Due to another of Law Firm's representations, several parties objected to Law Firm's retention.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge approved Law Firm's retention.  The various relationships are complex, and we will not tackle them here.  What should be of interest to this audience is the court's comparison of § 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Act to § 327(e).  The former applies to general counsel of the trustee, while the latter applies to special counsel.  In the words of the court § 327(e) imposes "fewer restrictions" on the proposed lawyer than does § 327(a).

        In re N. John Cunzolo Associates, Inc., 2010 Bankr. LEXIS 444 (W.D. Pa. Feb. 23, 2010).  This opinion was a ruling on a Chapter 11 Debtor's application for appointment of debtor's counsel.  Pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 327(a) the court held that the lawyer was not "disinterested" and denied the application.  A starting point was that the lawyer also represented the principal of the debtor.  Another problem was that, pre-filing, debtor had conveyed almost all of it tangible assets to the principal's relatives.  That was not all.  In any event, the court concluded by saying, "The taint is just too much."

        In re Nashville Senior Living, LLC, 2010 Bankr. LEXIS 875 (6th Cir. B.A.P. April 1, 2010).  In this opinion the Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appeals Panel ruled that an order denying appointment of counsel to the unsecured creditors' committee is not appealable as of right.

        In re M&M Marketing, L.L.C., 2010 Bankr. LEXIS 866 (8th Cir. B.A.P. April 2, 2010).  This case involves a motion by a creditor to remove a lawyer for the trustee ("Lawyer").  The bankruptcy court denied the motion, and in this opinion the Eighth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed.  The court discusses the juxtaposition of 11 U.S.C. § 327(a)&(e), and who qualifies for the position of "special counsel" under (e).  The court also discusses how the representation of certain creditors can cause a lawyer not to be eligible to be debtor's counsel, including for limited purposes.  The relationships among the various creditors, the debtor, and Lawyer are not well defined in the opinion, so not much more can be said about it here.

        In re Straughn, 2010 Bankr. LEXIS 1323 (W.D. Pa. May 5, 2010).  In these related Chapter 11 proceedings one of the debtors is a corporation, and the other is and individual who is the corporation's 80% shareholder.  Both debtors sought leave to employ the same lawyer as debtor's counsel.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied leave.  The court discussed those cases that held that having common counsel in this situation is never permissible versus those cases that have held that it is presumptively impermissible.  The court noted that the Third Circuit falls into the latter category.  Among other things, the court noted that the individual debtor is a creditor of the corporation.

        In re Universal Enterprises of W. Va., 2010 Bankr. LEXIS 1721 (N.D. W. Va. June 9, 2010).  Chapter 11.  The debtor, owner of commercial real estate, applied to employ Lawyer.  Lawyer represents an automobile dealer, which rents the debtor's real estate.  The debtor and the dealer are owned by the same person.  A creditor objected to Lawyer's retention by the debtor.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the application.  The court said the conflict alleged by the creditor was merely "potential," and thus not disqualifying.  The court said that dealer's lease appeared to be in the best interests of the estate and that the debtor's and dealer's interests appear to be aligned.

        In re Jade Mgm't Services, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 14125 (3d Cir. July 9, 2010).  Debtor's Counsel also represented the debtor's sole shareholder.  While the shareholder had guaranteed all of the debtor's secured debts, it was likely that the assets of the bankruptcy estate would satisfy the secured debts.  After the shareholder sold her stock in the debtor to a purchaser, the purchaser objected to Debtor's Counsel application for fees, claiming that Debtor' Counsel should never have been retained because of a conflict with the shareholder.  The bankruptcy judge and the district judge approved the fees, and in this opinion the appellate court affirmed.  In discussing the difference between potential conflicts and actual conflicts, the court said that Debtor's Counsel's conflict was at most potential.  This was because of the likelihood that the debtor's estate would cover the debtor's secured debts.

        In re SLM Trans, Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69093 (S.D. Ill. July 12, 2010.  Lawyer represented the debtor but sought leave to withdraw.  The trustee objected, and the court denied leave.  Lawyer then began representing parties in an adversary proceeding, taking positions that were detrimental to the estate.  For this reason the bankruptcy judge granted the trustee's motion to have Lawyer disqualified in the adversary proceeding.  The bankruptcy judge then vacated its earlier order denying Lawyer leave to withdraw as the debtor's counsel.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed the bankruptcy judge's order disqualifying Lawyer in the adversary proceeding.  This was because the trustee had not waived Lawyer's conflict pursuant to Illinois Rule 1.7.

        In re M&M Marketing, L.L.C., 2010 U.S. App. 21751 (8th Cir. Oct. 20, 2010).  In this one-paragraph opinion the court affirmed the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel's decision to disqualify the lawyer for the trustee.  First, the court held that the lawyer could not be "special purpose" counsel under 11 U.S.C. § 327(e), because the lawyer had not previously represented the debtor.  Second, the court held that the lawyer had a conflict because he was currently representing creditors of the estate with interests adverse to the estate.

        In re Connolly North America, LLC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 123368 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 22, 2010).  In this Chapter 7 proceeding creditors moved to disqualify the trustee because the trustee had breached his fiduciary duty to the estate.  Among other things, the trustee allegedly did not pursue, or at least did not investigate, claims against himself and his own law firm for things they did, or may have done, to disadvantage the estate.  The bankruptcy judge granted the motion.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed.  The issue was whether the trustee's obvious conflict was "cause" for removal under 11 U.S.C. § 324(a).

        In re JMK Construction Group, Ltd., 2010 Bankr. LEXIS 4352 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2010).  Law Firm applied to represent multiple related debtors.  In this fact-intensive analysis the bankruptcy judge denied the application, primarily because the various debtors had potential claims against each other.  Moreover, the court followed other cases holding that conflicts under section 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Act could not be waived.  The opinion is a decent research tool for cases involving the representation in bankruptcy proceedings of multiple parties with potential claims against each other.

        In re Sarao, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 333 (D. Mass. Feb. 1, 2011).  Chapter 7.  The trustee sought leave under 11 U.S.C.S. § 327(c) to employ Lawyer as special counsel to handle adversary proceeding against the debtor's father.  The father objected because Lawyer also represented the debtor's largest creditor, Merrill Lynch, and Merrill Lynch was to pay Lawyer's fees in the adversary litigation.  The court granted leave, but held that Merrill Lynch could not direct the litigation, only the trustee.  In the case certain conflicts arose, Lawyer would have to withdraw.  If Merrill Lynch chose not to continue funding the litigation, Lawyer could not withdraw.

        In re Age Refining, Inc., 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 594 (W.D. Tex. Feb. 22, 2011).  In this 19-page opinion a bankruptcy judge approved the retention by the Chapter 11 trustee of two law firms to bring preference and fraudulent transfer claims against certain companies.  The opinion includes a lengthy discussion of the following sections of the Bankruptcy Act and how they relate: 101, 327, 328, 330, 503, & 504.  The court was not concerned that the two firms' work would be duplicative, because the court reserved the power to adjust their fees accordingly.  The court held that a provision awarding each firm a 3% contingent fee was not feel splitting prohibited by the Act.  The contingent fee would be on top of the firms' billing at 85% of their normal rates.  One of the firms was regular counsel to the Chapter 11 trustee; the other was counsel to the Creditors' Committee.  The court found that these relationships did not run afoul of the adverse interest or disinterestedness provisions of Section 327(a).

        Waldron v. Adams and Reese, LLP, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45877 (W.D. La. April 27, 2011).  Law Firm, while representing Debtor in this Chapter 11 proceeding, received $200,000 from Debtor's principal creditor, in partial payment of Law Firm's fees for representing Debtor.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed the bankruptcy judge's finding that the payment did not render Law Firm "not disinterested."  The district judge also affirmed the bankruptcy judge's ruling that Law Firm should disgorge $135,000, about 20% of its total fees, for failure to disclose the $200,000 payment to the court.

        In re Heritage Land, LLC, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 2945 (D. Md. July 28, 2011).  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge held that a law firm for the debtors was not entitled to fees because it had also represented the principal unsecured creditor of the estate in other litigation.

        Estate,Re Kobe Real Estate, LLC, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 3266 (D.S.C. Aug. 31, 2011).  Application by Debtor for retention of counsel in Chapter 11 case.  The bankruptcy judge denied the application because of a number of "fast and loose" (our phrase) exchanges of money among the bankrupt, its owners, and the lawyer Debtor sought to retain.  Very fact-specific, but just did not pass the smell test.

        Jacques H. Geisenberger, Jr., P.C. v. DeAngelis, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108916 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 23, 2011).  In this opinion the district judge affirmed the bankruptcy judge's order disqualifying Debtor's counsel ("Lawyer").  The disqualification was largely due to Lawyer's failure to disclose his pre-petition relationships and compensation.  However, there was another feature.  Before the bankruptcy, Lawyer had handled for Debtor the sale of stock but had failed to comply with federal and state securities laws.  That resulted in litigation between the buyer and Debtor.  That litigation was pending when the bankruptcy was filed and Lawyer's appointment as Debtor's counsel was approved.  The court found that to be a conflict because Lawyer could not have given Debtor objective advice about the buyer's claim given Lawyer's intimate involvement in the sale.

        In re Everest Crossing, LLC, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 3561 (D. Mass. Sept. 16, 2011).  Debtor's counsel's fee request reduced by half (to $100,000) for failure, when retained, to disclose certain relationships and misrepresenting others.

        In re Sunbum5 Enterprises, LLC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113295 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 30, 2011).  Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.  Trustee sought to retain Law Firm, and Law Firm moved for a finding of no conflict.  The bankruptcy judge granted the motion.  In this opinion the district judge reversed.  Pre-petition, Law Firm had represented two individuals in defending a state court case in which Debtor had sued for an injunction and damages.  The state court case, largely dormant at the time of the motion in this case, was still pending, and Law Firm had withdrawn.  There were conflicting allegations before the district court as to the viability of the state court case.  In this opinion the district court reasoned that Law Firm simply would not be in a position to make a judgment as to the viability of the state court case.

        In re Gluth Bros. Construction, Inc., 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 4000 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 19, 2011).  A bankruptcy judge ordered Law Firm for the debtor to disgorge $128,000 (40% of its total fees) for its "who cares" attitude and its "wanton disregard" (both phrases, the court's) for disclosure rules in the Bankruptcy Act and Rules.   Law Firm, rather large with claimed expertise in bankruptcy matters, did things like not disclosing its relationship to the majority owner of the debtor, not disclosing that the majority owner had guaranteed Law Firm's fees for work for the debtor, and had not disclosed interim fees received during the bankruptcy, on forms required for that purpose.  That is a partial list.  The opinion is a long one, which meticulously parses a law firm's duties under Sections 327 and 329, Rules 2014 and 2016, and other applicable provisions.

        In re Ellipso, Inc., 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 4113 (D.D.C. Oct. 24, 2011).  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied 40% of fees requested by debtor's counsel.  The analysis was fact-intensive.  The court affirmed that not every relationship with affiliates of debtor is a conflict.  The partial denial of fees was due to debtor's counsel's poor reporting of these relationships and their failure to appear at the hearing on the fee application, knowing that these alleged conflicts would be raised at the hearing.  The court believed he could draw adverse inferences for the failure to appear.  Upon a motion to alter or amend the judgment, at In re Ellipso, Inc., 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 176 (D.D.C. Jan. 19, 1012), the judge refused to disturb his fee finding.   For reasons not clear to us the court found it necessary to re-enter the same relief at In re Ellipso, Inc., 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 2277 (D.D.C. May 22, 1012).

        In re The Harris Agency, LLC, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132638 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2011).  Law Firm represented Debtor in this Chapter 11 proceeding.  Law Firm appeared in another case on behalf of another company ("Co. No. 2") in a related proceeding.  Debtor and Co. No. 2 had common owners.  The U.S. Trustee moved to disqualify Law Firm in this proceeding and moved to have Law Firm's fees forfeited, including fees paid by third parties.  The bankruptcy judge granted the motion.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed.

        In re Lewis Road, LLC, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 4827 (E.D. Va. Dec. 9, 2011).  Law Firm for the Debtor failed to disclose that it represented a creditor when it was retained to represent the Debtor.  It also made misrepresentations to the court about this relationship.  As a result, the court ordered Law Firm to disgorge fees previously awarded.  The basis for undoing the fee award was FRCP 60(b).

        In re South Station, LLC, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 4856 (D. Utah Dec. 13, 2011).  In this opinion the court denied Debtor's counsel's request for fees exceeding $100,000.  The denial was based upon counsel's failure to disclose prepetition payments to counsel by principals and creditors of Debtor.

        In re Woodcraft Studios, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147495 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 22, 2011).  Lawyer for Debtor failed to disclose in his application for employment pre-petition work for Debtor or receipt of a $5,000 retainer.  The bankruptcy judge ruled that Lawyer should forfeit all fees and disgorge the retainer.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed.

        In re MF Global Inc., 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 5003 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 27, 2011).  This is a liquidation proceeding brought under the Securities Investor Protection Act of 1970 ("SIPA").  It involves Jon Corzine's company, MF Global.  Two customers objected to the appointment of Lawyer as trustee and Law Firm as trustee's counsel.  In this opinion the court held that both were "disinterested" within the meaning of both SIPA and the Bankruptcy Act.  First, the court rejected the claim that Law Firm's earlier representation of Bank, a possible creditor, was a conflict.  Bank is no longer a client, and the earlier work was unrelated to MFG.  Accounting Firm, which was MFG's auditor, is a current client of Law Firm and is Law Firm's auditor.  The court said that if Accounting Firm becomes involved in this proceeding, Law Firm should seek engagement of conflicts counsel.

        In re Prosser, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1366 (D.V.I. Jan. 6, 2012).  Law Firm sought to bring a derivative claim against Bankrupt to avoid certain alleged preferential transfers.  Because Law Firm had represented Bankrupt on matters related to this proceeding, the bankruptcy judge held that Law Firm had a conflict and could not bring the derivative action.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed.

        RMB Fasteners, Ltd. v. Heads & Threads Int'l, LLC, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8715 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 25, 2012).  This case arises out of an assignment for the benefit of creditors.  Law Firm appeared in this case for both the debtor and the assignment trustee.  In this opinion the court denied a motion to disqualify Law Firm, saying that, because the trustee was not sued in his personal capacity, his interests and those of the debtor were aligned.

        In re Kappy Inv., Inc., 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 335 (D. Minn. Feb. 2, 2012).  Law Firm filed a late application for approval as debtor's counsel and approval of compensation for four-months work already done.  The court denied the application because Law Firm had an actual conflict and several potential conflicts, none of which had Law Firm disclosed.

        In re Chatkhan, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 886 (E.D.N.Y. March 5, 2012).  Because of Lawyer's sloppiness in handling and reporting a $15,000 fee payment by Debtor's husband, the court, in this opinion, denied Lawyer's entire fee request of some $171,000.

        In re Persaud, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 884 (E.D.N.Y. March 5, 2012).  In this Chapter 7 proceeding the Trustee sought leave to hire Law Firm as general counsel and bankruptcy counsel.  Creditor objected claiming that he and the entity he controls had been represented by Law Firm in 2008, involving a restaurant in China, and the representation, though dormant, continues.  In this opinion the court overruled the objection.  First, after a fact-intensive analysis, the court held that only Creditor's entity had been a client of Law Firm.  The court analyzed Creditor's personal claim of being a client under Rule 1.18 and held that Creditor was only a prospective client and had disclosed nothing to Law Firm relevant to this proceeding.  As to the entity, the court held that the representation had ended and that, under Rule 1.9 (relating to former clients), this proceeding was not substantially related to the earlier representation.

        In re American Int'l Refinery, Inc., 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 6367 (5th Cir. March 29, 2012).  Law Firm represented Bankrupt before it went into bankruptcy and then represented it in the bankruptcy.  Law Firm failed to disclose to the court that its $200,00 retainer had been funded by Bankrupt's principal creditor.  The trustee sought total forfeiture of Law Firm's fees.  The bankruptcy court denied that relief, but ordered Law Firm to pay a sanction of $135,000, 20% of its total fees, for the failure to disclose the source of the $200,000 retainer.  In this opinion the Fifth Circuit affirmed.  First, the court agreed with the bankruptcy court that the retainer, under the facts of this case, did not "create an adverse interest" or rendered Law Firm "not disinterested."  Second, the court agreed with the bankruptcy court that the 20% sanction was an appropriate response to Law Firm's unintentional violation of Bankruptcy Rule 2014(a).

        In re Stark Ceramics, Inc., 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 1329 (N.D. Ohio March 29, 2012).  In connection with debtor's counsels' fee application, questions were raised about debtor's counsels' loyalty to the estate.  The agreement to purchase the debtor's property provided that the purchaser (the debtor's principal) would assume the liability for fees to debtor's counsel.  The court said this was "concerning," but standing alone did not establish an actual conflict of interest.

        In re nCoat, Inc., 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 1698 (M.D.N.C. April 18, 2012).  Law Firm was hired as "special counsel" to handle Debtor's corporate and securities work.  When applying for compensation, it appeared that almost all the services were general bankruptcy activities and no corporate or securities work.  In addition when the bankruptcy was filed, Debtor owed Law Firm some $500,000 in pre-petition fees.  The court denied the compensation but gave Law Firm "one last chance" to show to the court specifically what corporate and securities work Law Firm performed post-petition.

        Special Counsel's Undisclosed Compensation.  In re Moore, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 1778 (N.D. Tex. April 23, 2012).  Adversary proceeding in Chapter 7 case brought by Creditor against an affiliate of Debtor.  Law Firm was hired as special counsel for the trustee.  Lawyer, at Law Firm was in charge of representing the trustee.  Law Firm had a long-standing relationship as counsel for Creditor. Creditor had agreed to pay Law Firm's fees in the adversary proceeding and did so for a period of time, some $92,000.  This arrangement and the payments were not disclosed to the court or the trustee.  It was also shown that Law Firm conveyed confidential trustee information to Creditor.  As a result of all this, the defendants in the adversary proceeding moved to dismiss the adversary proceeding in its entirety (the "death penalty").  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the motion.  In sum, the court found that "the very temple of justice has been defiled."  [Note: we hasten admit that we do not follow the complexities of this case.  What shines through is that when counsel for the trustee is being compensated by a creditor, and the law firm involved is for a time on both sides of litigation in the bankruptcy, approval from the court -- if such approval is even possible (doubtful) -- must be sought at the very beginning of the proceedings.]

        In re W.A.R. LLP, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 1989 (D.D.C. May 4, 2012).  At some risk of over-simplification, we will keep this one as brief as possible.  The debtor is an LLP with two partners, P1 and P2.  P1 and P2 are in litigation against each other.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge imposed sanctions on P1 and his lawyer for maintaining groundless positions solely to frustrate P2.  P1 is also a lawyer.  One of the bases for the sanctions was that P1 ghostwrote pleadings for a creditor of the estate, which purported to be against P1.  This, according the court, was to further frustrate P2 and his claims against P1.  The court noted that ghostwriting is not per se improper, but doing so in this case violated "Rule 1.7" and misled the court.

        In re Walton, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 1776 (M.D. Fla. April 20, 2012).  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge sorts through the ways debtor's counsel can be compensated in Chapters 7 and 13 proceedings.  Evidently the lawyer had, pre-petition, been getting back-dated checks for post-petition activities.  The court objected to that.  This opinion discusses a preferable new arrangement, not involving post-dated checks.

        In re Vista Bella, Inc., 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 2391 (S.D. Ala. May 29, 2012).  In this opinion the court granted the Chapter 7 trustee's motion to employ Lawyer as special counsel under Section 327(e) of the Bankruptcy Act.  Lawyer's task was to pursue claims against several parties for fraudulent transfers.  The only impediment to the hiring was that Lawyer had been handling several actions that related to Debtor, the results of which could arguably have adversely affected the bankruptcy estate.  The court noted that two of those matters had already terminated and that Lawyer was withdrawing from the remaining one.

        In Re Hamilton, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 2701 (E.D.N.C June 14, 2012).  Debtor's counsel ("Lawyer") also represented a party who might be subject to a fraudulent conveyance claim.  For that reason the court found that Lawyer had an "actual" conflict of interest, allowed Lawyer to continue as debtor's counsel, and disqualified Lawyer from representing the other party.

        SBMC Healthcare, LLC, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 2786 (S.D. Tex. June 18, 2012).  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge allowed the debtor to retain a lawyer who had a claim for fees for prepetition services.  In the face of the U.S. Trustee's position that such a retention should never be allowed, the court, in a lengthy analysis, outlined the situations in which it could.

        In re Carlson, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 3535 (D. Neb. Aug. 1, 2012).  Law Firm had defended several persons in an earlier suit in state court by this Chapter 7 Debtor to recover certain property.  Debtor did obtain some of the property he sought in a settlement of that case.  Now, the trustee is seeking to recover that property from the Debtor for the bankruptcy estate.  The trustee sought, pursuant to 11 U.S.C. Sec. 327(c), to retain Law Firm as special counsel to recover the property.  The Debtor objected to the retention.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge approved the retention, noting that no creditor was objecting, which, according to that section, would have mandated disapproval.  The court also held that Sec. 327(c) does not disqualify Law Firm for having previously represented creditors where, as here, that relationship does not potentially adversely affect the bankruptcy estate.

        In re Cecil, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 108701 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 3, 2012).  Chapter 13.  The trustee obtained an order approving the appointment of a "special counsel."  In this opinion the district judge reversed.  First, the judge noted that 18 U.S.C. Sec. 327(e) does not recognize the appointment of special counsel in Chapter 13 cases.  Second, the court held that because the special counsel represented a creditor, that was disqualifying under Sec. 327(e).

        In re Residential Capital, LLC, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 3706 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 10, 2012).  In this unremarkable opinion the court does lay out the requirements for appointment of special counsel for the debtor under 11 U.S.C. Sec. 327(e).

        Forizs & Dogali, P.A. v. Siegel, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136052 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 24, 2012).  The debtor in this bankruptcy had been engaged in a Ponzi scheme.  Law Firm was retained as "special counsel" to recover funds from investors who had received more from the debtor than they had invested.  After being retained, Law Firm filed, on behalf of an investor, a claim for an amount that exceeded his investment.  Law Firm neglected to report this to the court.  Another creditor moved to have the special counsel appointment revoked.  The bankruptcy judge granted the motion.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed.

        In re Sundance Self Storage-EL Dorado LP, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 5277 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 6, 2012).  Lawyer for Debtor ("Lawyer") was awarded some $60,000 in fees when Debtor's Chapter 11 case was converted to Chapter 7.  Smith had operational control over Debtor during the Chapter 11 case.  Lawyer represented Smith on other matters.  During the Chapter 11 proceeding, without court approval, Smith conveyed Debtor's only asset to Brown, the principal owner of the debtor.  Smith told Lawyer that Brown would cover Lawyer's fees for some of Lawyer's activities.  Lawyer also was owed fees from Debtor for services before the Chapter 11 case.  Lawyer disclosed none of these relationships to the court, even after prodding by the court.  In this opinion the court ordered that Lawyer be awarded no fees and that all fees already paid to Lawyer be disgorged.  The opinion is a mini-treatise on the Bankruptcy Act's requirements for debtor's counsel regarding having no interests adverse to the estate, being disinterested, and the need for disclosure of all relationships relevant to those concepts.

        In re Jackson, 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 5648 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 5, 2012).  Chapter 7.  The trustee, a lawyer, sought leave to employ his own law firm, and two of his partners, to represent the trustee in certain matters, including a patent infringement claim.  The deficiencies in the application, at least in the mind of the bankruptcy judge, required the judge to write a 25-page treatise on what a trustee must show in order to gain approval of hiring his own law firm.  We choose not to go into the opinion in any depth except to point out an interesting requirement for a law firm to show it is "disinterested" within the meaning of Section 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Act.  First, the court held that the law firm had no adverse interest, merely because it was the trustee's law firm.  As to disinterestedness, the law firm's conflict check included only checking for conflicts with "the scheduled creditors" of the estate.  The court said that was deficient and that the firm should have checked for possible infringers among all its clients.  As to this requirement, and those requirements we have not discussed, the court denied retention but left it up to the trustee and the law firm to file a new application that complies with the court's opinion.

        In re Sonya D. Int'l, Inc., 2012 Bankr. LEXIS 5763 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 14, 2012).  We cannot grasp the facts or the parties' arguments.  In this opinion the court granted the debtors' application to employ "additional" counsel in related trust litigation.  The opinion contains an interesting discussion as to whether Sec. 327(a) or (e) should apply, given the fact that the lawyers in question did not represent the debtors prepetition.

        In re Persaud, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12674 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 30, 2013).  Chapter 7.  Trustee's motion to retain Law Firm.  Creditor objected claiming Law Firm was representing his business in China.  This, he claims, enabled Law Firm to use Creditor's information against Creditor.  In a very fact-intensive analysis both the bankruptcy judge, and then the district judge in this opinion, granted the motion to retain.  One of the court's findings was that the earlier representation had ended.  Most of the analysis dealt with the "disinterested" requirement under Section 327(a) of the Bankruptcy Act.  In a brief discussion of New York ethics rules, the district judge noted that the Bankruptcy Act is stricter than the state rules, although that made no difference in this case.  

        In re Niroomand, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 383 (S.D. Fla. Jan. 31, 2013).  Chapter 7.  In an earlier case Trustee and Lawyer successfully sued another Law Firm for malpractice. In this case Trustee and Lawyer are seeking an injunction under the Barton Act barring the other Law Firm from litigating certain matters  in state court.  In either the state court action or in this action (not clear from opinion) the other Law Firm brought claims against both Trustee and Lawyer for malicious prosecution and abuse of process.  For that reason Law Firm moved to disqualify Lawyer for having a conflict of interest with Trustee.  In this opinion the court held that Trustee could, and did, waive the conflict.

        In re Leachman, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14115 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 1, 2013).  Chapter 7.  Pre-petition, Lawyer obtained a judgment against the debtor.  Post-petition, Lawyer attempted to bring a malpractice action against another law firm on behalf of the debtor.  In this opinion the court held that a creditor could not do this in a Chapter 7 case.  There might be an exception, the court said, in an "avoidance action," which this was not.

        In re Murray, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 635 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2013).  Law Firm A represented Debtors in a dispute with Debtors' tenants.  The tenants were represented by Lawyer B.  Debtors failed to pay Law Firm A's fees.  Law Firm A retained Lawyer B to collect the fees from Debtors while Lawyer B continued in state court litigation for tenants against Debtors.  Debtors moved to disqualify Lawyer B in the fee case.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the motion.

        In re First State Bancorp., 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 873 (D.N.M. March 6, 2013).  Debtor in this Chapter 7 proceeding is a bank holding company.  Bank is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Debtor.  There are only three creditors of Debtor, one being an insignificant state claim for taxes.  The only other creditors are TrustCo, an unsecured creditor, and FDIC, receiver of Bank.  Trustee of Debtor sought to hire Law Firm to assert positions adverse to FDIC.  FDIC objected to retention of Law Firm, in part because Law Firm was representing TrustCo in this and other similar proceedings.  In this opinion, after a very lengthy analysis, the court found a conflict and denied retention of Law Firm.

        In re Gregory & Parker, Inc., 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 1206 (E.D.N.C. March 28, 2013).  Corp. is one debtor.  Corp's 100% owner ("Owner") and his wife are debtors in a related proceeding.  Corp. and Owner would like to hire Law Firm, pursuant to §327(c), to pursue an adversarial claim against Third Party.  In this opinion approving the retention the court noted that, although the same general counsel could not handle jointly bankruptcies for an entity and its owner, in this adversarial proceeding the debtors' interests are aligned.

        In re Bon-Air P'Ship v. Trumble, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 7316 (4th Cir. April 11, 2013).  In this opinion the court held that Chapter 7 trustee could hire a law firm as special counsel even though that law firm was asserting a claim against a general partner of Debtor on behalf of another client.

        In re Rodriguez-Borges, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52528 (D.P.R. March 28, 2013).  Chapter 7.  In this opinion the district judge held that an order of the bankruptcy judge disqualifying Debtor's counsel was not appealable to the district judge as of right.

        In re Arazi, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 1530 (D. Mass. April 9, 2013).  Chapter 7.  Trustee retained his law firm to represent him.  After this retention the law firm brought two actions against debtor.  The law firm failed to disclose these actions to the bankruptcy court, in violation of Massachusetts Local Bankruptcy Rule 2014-1.  Because of this violation the court reduced the law firm's fee.  The court noted that had the above representations been materially adverse to the estate or had the law firm lost its disinterestedness, it would have forfeited its fee completely.

        In re Dube, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 1696 (C.D. Cal. April 23, 2013).  Debtor filed this case under Chapter 7.  It was subsequently converted to Chapter 11.  Debtor employed two law firms to assist in her divorce.  After being in Chapter 11 for five years, the case was converted back to Chapter 7.  The law firms petitioned for fees.  Debtor's former husband objected, in part because the law firms had a conflict of interest in keeping the Chapter 11 going so long.  In this opinion the court rejected that argument noting that the law firms did not have pre-petition claims against the Debtor or prior representations of adverse parties.

        In re Brown Publ'g Co., 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 1743 (E.D.N.Y. April 29, 2013).  Very complicated Chapter 11 proceeding involving a publishing company and its affiliates.  A liquidating trust ("Trust") was formed, and Trust, represented by Law Firm, filed an action against the debtors' former officers, directors, shareholders, and affiliates.  One defendant, the CEO of debtors, moved to disqualify Law Firm because Law Firm had represented him in connection with debtors' business.  In this highly fact-intensive opinion the bankruptcy judge found that Law Firm had represented the CEO.  In the absence of any formal evidence of the representation, the court relied heavily on Restatement Sec. 14(1).  The court also held that Law Firm had not complied with Bankruptcy Rule 2014, in failing to specify its relationship with creditors of Debtors.  The court scheduled a sanctions hearing for later in May.

        Auday v. Wetseal Retail, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80535 (E.D. Tenn. June 6, 2013).  Debtor in this Chapter 7 case is also a plaintiff in an employment discrimination case against the defendant.  One of the holdings in this opinion is that the Chapter 7 trustee can stand in the shoes of Debtor to prosecute the discrimination claim.  However, the court held it would be an unacceptable conflict for the Debtor's law firm to represent the trustee in prosecuting that claim.  The court also held that the confidentiality issues would make a conflicts waiver ineffective.

        In re Autosport Int'l, Inc., 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 2530 (C.D. Cal. June 24, 2013).  Law Firm assisted Chapter 7 trustee in recovering an exotic car for the estate.  Creditors objected to fees for Law Firm because Law Firm had represented a creditor of the debtor and had been a creditor itself.  The court said those relationships had not harmed the estate and approved the fees.

        In re Barnes, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 2876 (D. Ore. July 16, 2013).  Chapter 7 Debtor was sued in Nevada by Nevada Plaintiff for an auto injury, resulting in a judgment against Debtor.  Debtor then filed this Chapter 7 proceeding.  The trustee sought leave to hire Lawyer to sue Debtor's auto policy carrier and Debtor's Nevada lawyers.  Lawyer represented Nevada Plaintiff in the Nevada case and continues to represent Nevada Plaintiff.  Nevada Plaintiff is the only unsecured creditor in this proceeding.  The Nevada judgment is largely satisfied.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied Lawyer's retention.  First, the court noted ways in which Lawyer might work to benefit Nevada Plaintiff to the detriment of the estate.  Second, the court noted Lawyer's woeful disclosures in violation of Bankruptcy Rule 2014(a).  Among other things Lawyer failed to disclose her continuing representation of Nevada Plaintiff and failed to disclose the particulars of her contingent fee agreement with Nevada Plaintiff.

        In re Williams, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 3105 (E.D. Va. Aug. 1, 2013).  Individuals A and B each owned 50% of LLC.  A and B are disputing who has rights to money in LLC.  LLC is in bankruptcy as are A and B.  The court appointed a liquidating trustee for LLC.  The trustee sought leave to hire Law Firm.  B objected, claiming Law Firm had a conflict.  In this opinion the court denied the motion on the basis that Law Firm is not being adverse to B, only, arguably, to B's bankruptcy estate.  Moreover, the trustee of B's estate has not objected to the retention.

        In re Hart Oil & Gas, Inc., 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 3128 (D.N.M. Aug. 2, 2013).  Chapter 11 Trustee applied to hire Law Firm as special counsel pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §327(e).  The scope of duties included all sorts of things relating to formulating and implementing the plan.  In denying the application the court first held that Law Firm did not comply with §327(e) because the duties fell within the phrase "conducting the case."  Thus, Law Firm would have to comply with §327(a).  It could not because it had a $100,000 claim against the estate for work done for Debtor, and it continued to represent Debtor.  Thus, Law Firm was not "disinterested."

        In re Marsh, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 3430 (D. Mont. Aug. 21, 2013).  Chapter 7 trustee sought leave, pursuant to 11 U.S.C. §327(d), to hire herself as lawyer to pursue assets for the estate on a contingent fee basis.  The bankruptcy judge granted leave.  Debtor sought rehearing.  In this opinion the court denied rehearing.

        In re Signature Apparel Group LLC, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 3748 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 10, 2013).  Law Firm represented three creditors who filed an involuntary petition to put Signature into Chapter 7 bankruptcy.  The case was converted to Chapter 11.  Law Firm was appointed counsel to the creditors' committee.  Law Firm then commenced this action on behalf of Signature against Defendants for various business torts and related claims.  Defendants moved to disqualify Law Firm.  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge, calling the motion a "lightweight litigation maneuver," denied the motion.  The court put the standing issue aside and ruled that there was simply no showing of a conflict.  The court also noted that in smaller Chapter 11 cases the same law firm might wear several different hats.

        Cal. Proposed Op. 12-0004.  Cal. COPRAC has published for public comment a proposed opinion that holds that a lawyer may represent a Chapter 7 debtor while simultaneously representing one or more creditors in unrelated matters.  The opinion relies heavily upon N.Y. City Op.. 2005-01, which held basically the same. In re Advisory Comm. of Prof’l Ethics, 2014 N.J. LEXIS 652 (N.J. July 2, 2014), is also basically the same.

        In re Mitchell, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 3937 (E.D.N.C. Sept. 20, 2013).  Shortly prior to filing its Chapter 11 petition, Debtor conveyed some $600,000 worth of property to Company.  When Law Firm applied to be Debtor's counsel, Law Firm failed to disclose that it represented the half owner of Company.  For that reason, in this opinion, the court denied Law Firm's request for fees.

        In re GFI Commercial Mort. LLP, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124077 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 29, 2013).  In this Chapter 11 proceeding, for a time Lawyer represented both the liquidator and a committee of limited partners.  When a dispute arose between the liquidator and the committee, Lawyer ceased representing each.  Because of the conflict the committee moved for an order of fee disgorgement.  The bankruptcy judge denied that motion.  In this opinion the district judge affirmed.  The court ruled that although Lawyer's conduct might have violated California Rule 3-310(C)(1)(the "potential conflict" provision), the court had discretion to allow fees where the violation was not "egregious."  [Note: California is the only state to recognize "potential conflicts" in its ethics rules.  The concept is also recognized in bankruptcy cases -- in California and in other jurisdictions.]

        In re Miners Oil Co., Inc., 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 5077 (W.D. Va. Dec. 3, 2013).  Debtor’s Counsel applied for fees.  In this opinion the court reduced the fees by approximately 10%, largely because of what the bankruptcy judge thought was a less than perfect disclosure by Debtor’s Counsel in his retention application.  Creditor’s Counsel briefly mentioned pre-petition dealings with the 100% owner of the Debtor with no specifics, some of which the bankruptcy judge thought were important.  Very fact-specific opinion.  Anyone concerned about such disclosures, particularly bankruptcy specialists in the Western District of Virginia, should read the opinion.

        In re Klein, 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 5096 (C.D. Cal. Dec. 4, 2013).  Debtor started out in this Chapter 11 proceeding as a debtor in possession.  At some point a Chapter 11 trustee was appointed for cause, based upon DIP’s mismanagement of the estate.  Debtor moved to disqualify the trustee’s lawyer (“Lawyer”).  In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the motion.  Debtor’s problem with Lawyer was that Debtor had met with Lawyer about retaining Lawyer while Debtor was still in possession.  He claimed to have shared confidences with Lawyer.  The court’s ruling was largely based upon the fact that Debtor should have disclosed everything about his business as part of the bankruptcy filings.  Thus, there would have been nothing confidential to disclose to Lawyer.  [Note: the court’s ruling was consistent with Idaho Rule 1.18, but the court did not mention the rule.]

        In re GSC Group, Inc., 2013 Bankr. LEXIS 5204 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 2013).  Chapter 11.  Failure to disclose relationships.  Law Firm, representing Debtor, allowed the proposed financial advisor to the estate to misrepresent the relationship between the advisor firm and a key individual member of the advisor team.  Law Firm also failed to inform the court of its own relationship to several involved entities.  The U.S. Trustee sought to have Law Firm forfeit all its fees.  They settled without a court order (long story) with Law Firm agreeing to decrease its fees by $1.5 million (roughly 28%).

        In re Moore, 2014 U.S. App. LEXIS 470 (5th Cir. Jan. 9, 2014).  While this opinion involves a conflict of interest, at bottom it is about the standard to be applied in the court’s application of its inherent power to sanction a party.  The bankruptcy court had dismissed an adversary action as a sanction because the plaintiff had been sloppy in disclosing, and dealing with, a conflict.  The district court affirmed.  In this opinion the appellate court reversed holding that there was insufficient evidence that the party charged “willfully abused the judicial process.”

        In re Garcia, 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 327 (D. Kan. Jan. 24, 2014).  Debtor’s Counsel was unable to explain why he failed to file timely a Rule 2016(b) disclosure of fees he had received from the debtor.  Because the lawyer had done a workmanlike job on the case, and because the lawyer had a good reputation as a bankruptcy lawyer, the court declined to deny totally the lawyer’s fee, reducing it by one third.  This was, in part, to send a message to the bankruptcy bar about its disclosure obligations.

        In re Hummer Transp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13186 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2014). Lawyer represented personal injury plaintiffs (“PIPs”) in an action against Co. PIPs won a verdict of $5 million. PIPs then filed an involuntary Chapter 7 petition against Co. Trustee applied to hire Lawyer to pursue claims against the law firm that lost the personal injury case (“Defense Firm”) and Co.’s insurance company (“InsCo”) for bad faith. Defense Firm and InsCo opposed retention of Lawyer. The bankruptcy judge approved the retention. On appeal the district judge affirmed. First, the court held that because Lawyer was not a creditor of Co., Lawyer was disinterested. Second, the court held that because Trustee’s interests were aligned with PIPs, Lawyer did not have a conflict of interest.

        KLG Gates v. Brown, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19998 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2014). The most significant part of this opinion for purposes of this audience is the court’s discussion of how much disclosure debtor’s counsel should make under Bankruptcy Rule 2014. The law firm listed 481 creditors who were the law firm’s clients on other matters. The form did not contain any detail about potential conflicts with the estate. The district judge found the filing wanting and remanded the matter to the bankruptcy court to determine whether the law firm should be disqualified.

        In re Fresh Choice, LLC, 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 916 (N.D. Cal. March 10, 2014). In this opinion the bankruptcy judge ordered debtor’s counsel to forfeit all fees. Among other things, the lawyer failed to disclose that he was a creditor of the estate. The lawyer also failed to disclose that he had a relationship with the owner of the debtor and was holding about a million dollars of the owner’s funds in escrow pending resolution of the owner’s dispute with owner’s wife.

        In re Grant, 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 959 (E.D. Cal. March 10, 2014). After the debtor filed its Chapter 7 petition, Law Firm entered into a contingent fee agreement involving the death of the debtor’s daughter. Among other things, the agreement created a charging lien against the estate. A year after learning of the bankruptcy Law Firm sought approval of its retention and compensation. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied both.

        In re Rental Systems, L.L.C., 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 1057 (N.D. Ill. March 17, 2014). No purpose would be served by a discussion of all the connections the lawyer in question had with this Chapter 11 proceeding. Because of the lawyer’s connections with creditors of the estate and persons and entities owing money to the estate, and because the lawyer failed timely to disclose significant parts of these relationships, the bankruptcy judge denied a tardy application to employ the lawyer.

        In re Charles St. African Meth. Epis. Church of Boston, 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 2201 (D. Mass. May 9, 2014). In this Chapter 11 case, debtor Church moved to sell certain real estate. Debtor’s counsel, a leading Boston law firm (“Law Firm”) was handling the matter pro bono. Several parties objected to Law Firm’s participation in the sale because Law Firm had disclosed that it represented one of the bidders in unrelated matters, that it had relationships with members of the boards of both bidders, and that two partners of Law Firm served on the boards of bidders. Law Firm said it had erected screens between the partners associated with the bidders and the lawyers handling the sale. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge overruled the objections and permitted Law Firm to proceed with the sale.

        In re Lennys Copy Ctr. & More LLC, 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 3138 (E.D. Mich. July 18, 2014). Chapter 7. In this adversary proceeding the Chapter 7 trustee is seeking to overturn $26,000 of fraudulent conveyances to Defendants. Law Firm has represented Debtor since before the Chapter 7 proceeding commenced. Law Firm also appeared for Defendants in this adversary proceeding. The trustee moved to disqualify Law Firm in the adversary proceeding. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the motion, finding a current client conflict. The court rejected Law Firm’s suggestion that it might ameliorate the conflict by withdrawing from representing Debtor, using a “hot-potato”-like analysis (but not using the term).

        In re Owens, 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 3346 (9th Cir. BAP Aug. 6, 2014). Debtor filed two Chapter 11s within eight months. Lawyer represented Debtor in the first one. Lawyer sought to represent Debtor in the second one (this one). Lawyer is still owed fees from the first one. The bankruptcy court found Lawyer not disinterested under § 327 because Lawyer refused to waive his claim to those fees “clearly and unconditionally.” In this opinion the Panel affirmed.

        In re Legacy Dev. SC Grp., LLC, 2914 Bankr. LEXIS 3899 (D.S.C. Sept. 11, 2914). Chapter 7. Prior to filing, Debtor conveyed $1,000,000 to one of the defendants in this case (“LeGrand”). This suit contains a claim for fraudulent conveyance. Both LeGrand and another company (“Heritage”), of which LeGrand is managing member, are defendants. Lawyer is representing both LeGrand and Heritage. Heritage is a creditor of the estate. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the motion, deferring to Lawyer’s judgment as to what would be most beneficial to his clients. The relationships are complex and include the possible interests of Class B members of Heritage. The court suggested that future developments could create an impermissible conflict for Lawyer.

        In re Delta Produce, LP, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 132427 (W.D. Tex. Sept. 22, 2014). Chapter 11. Debtor is, among other things, a purchaser of perishables and covered by the federal Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act of 1930 (“PACA”), 7 U.S.C. § 499(a)-(t). PACA provides for the creation of trust-like entities to ensure that sellers of produce are promptly and fairly compensated by purchasers. PACA provides for compensation of the trusts’ lawyers. In this case Lawyer was appointed as special counsel under § 328 of the Bankruptcy Act to deal with PACA claims. This opinion deals with the interplay of PACA and the Bankruptcy Act and discusses the entitlement to, and the timing of, Lawyer’s compensation. There were allegations that Lawyer had a conflict of interest due to the interplay of these laws. Given the absolutely unique nature of these concepts, that is all we will say about the case. If you are involved in bankruptcy and PACA, you should read the opinion.

        In re Madera Roofing, Inc., 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 4128 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2014). Chapter 11. Some months prior to filing this proceeding, Debtor gave Law Firm a $50,000 retainer. After the filing, Law Firm sought appointment as general counsel for Debtor. In its filings Law Firm accounted for the retainer in a highly misleading and incomplete way. The court granted Law Firm’s application. Ultimately, when Law Firm’s conduct came to light, the bankruptcy judge, in this opinion, ordered Law Firm to disgorge the $50,000 and denied Law Firm’s petition for some $130,000 in post-filing fees.

        In re Hall, 2014 Bankr. LEXIS 4788 (D. Kan. Nov. 19, 2014). Chapter 11 debtor sought to retain lawyer under § 327 of the Bankruptcy Act. Debtor owed Lawyer fees for pre-filing work on this bankruptcy. In the opinion the bankruptcy judge, among other things, allowed Lawyer’s retention and held that fees owed Lawyer for that bankruptcy-related work does not make Lawyer not disinterested under § 327.

        Cal. Op. 2014-191 (undated). In this opinion the committee discusses the extent to which a lawyer may, without the written consent of the parties, represent the debtor in a “simple, no-asset” Chapter 7 case where the lawyer represents creditors of the estate on unrelated matters.

        In re Digerati Techs., Inc., 2015 WL 152886 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 12, 2015). An investment banker retained by Debtor petitioned for fees. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the petition on a number of grounds, including failure to benefit the estate. One ground, which the judge said was alone sufficient to deny compensation was the investment banker’s failure to disclose its relationship with Debtor’s counsel, in violation of Bankruptcy Rule 2014.

        In re McIntosh, 2015 WL 241130 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 16, 2015). Lawyer filed a Chapter 13 petition for Debtor. While representing Debtor Lawyer took the position that a deed of trust executed to secure a debt to creditors was invalid. This would have meant that certain funds would have gone to Debtor to satisfy Debtor’s homestead exemption. After Debtor discharged Lawyer, Lawyer took the position that the funds should instead go to unsecured creditors including Lawyer. In this opinion the court denied Lawyer’s request for fees because of Lawyer’s conflict. The court premised the finding of the conflict upon Lawyer’s “duty of loyalty” to his former client. [Note: there is no such duty to former clients. See, Charles W. Wolfram, Former-Client Conflicts, 10 Geo. J. Legal Ethics 677, 691-699 (1997). The court could have reached the same result via reference to the substantial relationship test as it relates to former clients.]

        In re Hutch Holdings, Inc., 2015 WL 1543255 (S.D. Ga. March 31, 2015). Law Firm sought to be approved as debtor’s counsel in this Chapter 11 proceeding. Law Firm violated Bankruptcy Rule 2014 by not disclosing certain relationships, including the fact that it represented the 100% shareholder of the debtor in his own bankruptcy. The U.S. Trustee objected to Law Firm’s employment. The court found that the undisclosed relationships did not warrant disqualification. However, the court found the Law Firm’s habitual failure to comply with Rule 2014, as shown in this and other cases, warranted sanctions in this case. Thus, the court ordered that Law Firm be denied all fees relating to the U.S. Trustee’s objection, which the court believed, when determined, would be “substantial.”

        In re Gress, 2015 WL 1744165 (M.D. Pa. April 14, 2015). In this Chapter 7 proceeding Debtors’ counsel made a series of mistakes. The trustee threatened to sue Debtors’ counsel for malpractice. Claiming Debtors’ counsel had a conflict of interest, the trustee moved to disqualify Debtors’ counsel. In this opinion the court denied the motion, stating that because counsel’s “competence” was the issue, not his “integrity,” disqualification would not be appropriate. The court did, however, say it would order Debtors’ counsel to show cause why he should not disgorge fees for his “practices.”

        In re Stevens, 2015 WL 3476567 (D. Mont. June 1, 2015). Chapter 7.  In this opinion the court denied a motion to reconsider its approval of trustee’s employment of Law Firm to bring avoidance actions against Debtor’s parents. The parents and debtor claim Law Firm has conflicts of interest. In a long, fact-intensive opinion the court found no conflict. This was largely because Law Firm had no representations that gave rise to a conflict.

        O’Shaughnessy v. Cypress Media, L.L.C., 2015 WL 4197789 (W.D. Mo. July 13, 2015). Among other things, the court in this opinion held that a proposed class representative was not adequate because he was the brother of one of the lawyers representing the putative class, citing London v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 340 F.3d 1246 (11th Cir. 2003).

        In re: Ampal-Am. Israel Corp., 2015 WL 4510723 (S.D.N.Y. July 27, 2015). Chapter 7. The trustee, a member of Law Firm, moved to hire Law Firm as “substitute general bankruptcy counsel under 11 U.S.C. § 327(a).” In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the motion. The court held that Law Firm’s prior representation of a creditor was not an “actual conflict” under 11 U.S.C. § 327(c). A screen was erected and acknowledged by the court as effective. The relationships among the parties and Law Firm were several and complex and too fact-intensive to be of value to this audience in a summary of this sort.

        In re Chardon, LLC, 2015 WL 5174586 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 2, 2015). Application to employ Law Firm A as debtor’s counsel. While the bankruptcy judge granted to application, he had to deal with a number of issues. First Law Firm A was late in filing the required disclosures. The court rejected that objection saying the delay was minor, not the result of bad faith, and there was no showing of prejudice to the estate. The court then considered whether Law Firm A was disinterested, and in a fact-intensive analysis, held that it was disinterested. Next, the court had to deal with Law Firm A’s merger into Law Firm B. Law Firm B had earlier represented the debtor’s major secured creditor on matters unrelated to this Chapter 11 proceeding. Law Firm B’s representation of that creditor had ended before its merger with Law Firm A. In a questionable discussion of the “hot potato” doctrine the court held that the trend was to employ a weighing test in the context of mergers. The court found no problem in that context. Last, the court had to deal with Law Firm B’s seeking to have its employment application approved retroactively to the petition date (comprising one month). In another fact-intensive analysis, the court held that the delay was excusable and granted the application retroactively.

        McGrane v. Howrey, LLP, 2015 WL 6126792 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 19, 2015). This is a Chapter 11 proceeding involving the failure of the law firm, Howrey, LLP. Law Firm served as co-counsel to the creditors’ committee for about one year until September 2012. Law Firm’s final fee petition sought $79,000. Based upon Law Firm’s misconduct, the bankruptcy judge disallowed $46,000 and further ordered Law Firm to disgorge $31,000 already paid. In this opinion the district judge affirmed. Law Firm’s wrongdoing, all subsequent to September 2012, included (1) representing a competing creditor, (2) revealing the committee’s confidential information in response to a motion to disqualify, and (3) objecting to a settlement supported by the committee.

        Lennear v. Diamond Pet Food Procs. of Cal., LLC, 2015 WL 7571560 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 25, 2015). In this case Plaintiff, represented by Lawyer, sued the defendants for race discrimination in employment. After filing this case, Plaintiff filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Petition. Plaintiff did not list this claim as an asset and obtained a discharge. When the bankruptcy trustee learned of the discrimination case, he applied successfully to reopen the bankruptcy proceeding. The bankruptcy court granted trustee’s petition to appoint Lawyer as special counsel for the estate. The defendants moved to disqualify Lawyer. In this opinion the court denied the motion, citing 11 U.S.C. § 327 (a) & (e), and California Rule 3-310(E). The court said that Lawyer’s duties to Plaintiff and to the bankruptcy creditors were consistent — that is seeking a maximum recovery in the discrimination case.

        In re Empire State Conglomerates, Inc., 2016 WL 745478 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2016). This involves a motion to disqualify the Chapter 7 trustee and her law firm (“Law Firm B”). The debtor in this proceeding (“Empire”) once owned shares in a residential co-op (“Co-op”). Co-op became the debtor in an earlier Chapter 7 proceeding. The unsecured creditors’ committee in the earlier case (“Committee”) was represented by another law firm (“Law Firm A”). Contentious litigation erupted in the Co-op case, involving Empire, Co-op, and Committee. That was settled in 2012. This proceeding, the Empire proceeding, began in January 2015. The Chapter 7 trustee filed an application to retain Law Firm B in April 2015, which was approved the next day. The application failed to disclose that Law Firm B had brought in several lawyers from Law Firm A, including a lawyer (“Lawyer”) who had substantial involvement in the earlier Co-op bankruptcy. Shortly after the court approved the retention, Firm B filed a supplemental disclosure disclosing the new lawyers. Nevertheless the moving party alleged, in substantial part, that because of the earlier proceeding, Law Firm B was adverse to the estate and was not disinterested. In denying the motion the court said that, without more, disputes settled three years prior to the retention would not be a basis for disqualification. The court also denied the motion to remove the trustee.

        In re James F. Humphreys & Assocs., L.C., 2016 WL 836965 (S.D. W. Va. March 3, 2016). Debtor is a plaintiffs’ personal injury law firm. Debtor’s primary counsel is based in Pittsburgh, Pa. Debtor applied to hire W. Va. Firm as local counsel to assist the Pittsburgh firm. An asbestos personal injury client of Debtor intervened to object to the W. Va. Firm, because the W. Va. Firm represents defendants in asbestos cases. The intervenor expressed concern that the W. Va. Firm might use the intervenor’s confidences, obtained from Debtor, in defending asbestos defendants. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the application to employ W. Va. Firm. The court expressed confidence that the W. Va. Firm, the Pittsburgh firm, and Debtor would work together to prevent any violations of Rule 1.9(c) and 1.6(a) and (c).

        In re Music, 2016 WL 2583734 (S.D. Ga. May 2, 2016). Application by Debtor to employ Law Firm. Law Firm had received $60,000 from two of Debtor’s affiliates. The source of the money was poorly documented. The U.S. Trustee objected to the retention. In this opinion the bankruptcy judged overruled the U.S. Trustee, but conditioned the retention of Law Firm on the employment of other counsel to investigate the circumstances of the payment, including possible preferences.

        In re Fair, 2016 WL 3027264 (N.D. Tex. May 18, 2016). Car Dealer, in approximately 100 cases, arranged to sell a car to a debtor pre-petition. The sale would close and the debtor would receive the car post-petition. Car Dealer would then remit to the debtor’s law firm all, or a portion, of the law firm’s fee. This opinion appeared after a show cause hearing before the bankruptcy judge. The court did not feel equipped to make a judgment in each of 100 cases whether this arrangement was a conflict of interest and harmful to the debtors and creditors. The court did rule that the law firm’s failure to disclose this fee arrangement violated section 329 of the Bankruptcy Act and Bankruptcy Rule 2016(b). For this the court ordered the debtors’ law firm to disgorge some $77,000, representing fees paid by Car Dealer to the law firm in the 100 cases.

        In re Ryan-Jones, 2016 WL 3478949 (E.D. Va. June 20, 2017). Chapter 7. Trustee is a member of Law Firm and seeks to employ Law Firm under § 327(a) and (c) of the Bankruptcy Act. Law Firm represents several creditors of the estate including Secured Creditors A and B. Among other things, Trustee wants to sell Real Estate upon which A and B have lent money and hold liens. Because it will be Trustee’s counsel’s job to determine the validity of the liens and accuracy of the payouts, the court in this opinion held that Trustee and A and B are adverse, and denied Law Firm’s employment.

        In re Silva Dairy, LLC, 2016 WL 3564361 (D. Idaho June 22, 2016). Because Debtor was cash-strapped, Debtor’s principal accepted from a “potential creditor” a check for $10,000. The check was payable to debtor’s principal and the notation on the check was “facility rent.” The $10,000 was really for Lawyer’s retainer. Debtor’s principal took the check to lawyer and endorsed the check to Lawyer. Lawyer then did the filings. In this opinion the court ordered the $10,000 forfeited because Lawyer had to have known that he was paid by a “potential creditor” and failed to make adequate disclosures in his filings.

        In re Malhotra, 2016 WL 3751626 (D. Ariz. July 7, 2016). Chapter 7. Trustee seeks to retain Law Firm No. 1. as “special counsel” to handle certain pension aspects of the estate. Debtor objected because Law Firm No. 1 represents Law Firm No. 2, which has a claim of some $400,000 arising from Law Firm No. 2’s representation of Debtor in her divorce. Seeing no adversity or “interestedness” (our word), the bankruptcy judge granted to application to employ Law Firm No. 1.

        In re Ampal-Am. Israel Corp., 2016 WL 3926457 (S.D.N.Y. July 18, 2016). Chapter 7. Over objections, the trustee sought to employ Law Firm as general counsel. The bankruptcy judge granted the motion. In this opinion the district judge affirmed. The facts and relationships are complex, and the opinion is long. The principal take-away (to us, at least) was that § 327(a) speaks in the present tense. Therefore, the fact that Law Firm had prior relationships with parties that may be adverse to the estate is not disqualifying if those relationships had ceased. There was also an issue regarding Law Firm’s possessing confidences of the former clients. Because Law Firm had created a screen regarding that information, the court was satisfied that the former clients’ confidences was not an issue regarding retention of Law Firm by the trustee.

        In re Bullitt Utils., Inc., 2016 WL 4991526 (W.D. Ky. Sept. 16, 2016). Chapter 7 Trustee applied to hire Law Firm as special counsel to pursue a surcharge application with the utilities commission, to pursue claims against a sanitation district, and to pursue possible claims against officers and directors of Utility. Prior to the application Law Firm had been representing Utility’s two largest unsecured creditors, A and B. The U.S. Trustee and the sanitation district objected to the appointment. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the application. First, the parties had arranged that Law Firm would discontinue representing the creditors A and B, thus resolving one objection. The special counsel retainer agreement provided that A and B would pay part of Law Firm’s fee as special counsel. The court rejected objections to that because the interests of the estate and A and B would be the same.

        In re Licking River Mining, LLC, 2016 WL 7321312 (E.D. Ky. Dec. 14, 2016). In this Chapter 7 proceeding, Trustee sought to hire Law Firm, under §327(e) of the Bankruptcy Act, as special counsel to bring several adversary proceedings against entities that supposedly harmed the debtor. The U.S. Trustee and major creditors objected. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge disqualified Law Firm in two of the matters. In each case Law Firm had represented the proposed defendants in transactions related to the alleged misconduct and would, in effect, be attacking various aspects of the transactions. Thus, Law Firm held an “interest adverse” to the estate, within the meaning of §327(e). Very fact- and transaction-specific.

        In re Craig, 2017 WL 713572 (N.D Ga. Feb. 22, 2017). Chapter 7. Debtor’s lawyer proposes to represent Debtor’s wife in a Rule 2004 examination relating to an objection to Debtor’s discharge. Trustee objected, claiming conflict of interest. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge overruled Trustee, saying that Trustee showed at most that Debtor’s lawyer had a “potential” conflict.

        In re Blue Jet, Inc., 2017 WL 785606 (D.N.M. Feb. 28, 2017). Chapter 11 Debtor applied to employ Law Firm as “general bankruptcy counsel.” Pre-petition, Debtor had signed a retainer agreement with Law Firm granting Law Firm a charging lien. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge found that the charging lien would make Law Firm not disinterested under §327(a) and conditioned Law Firm’s retention on disallowance of the charging lien. The court did recognize that certain finite matters might arise in the case that might make a charging lien appropriate.

        In re Roper & Twardowsky, LLC, 2017 WL 746213 (D.N.J. February 24, 2017). Chapter 7. Lawyers A and B comprise law firm AB. The trustee sought to retain AB as “special counsel” under §327(e). In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the retention. Our taking things out of order, the court held that the duties to be given to AB were so broad and varied, that application of §327(a) was more appropriate. The court held that AB would not be “disinterested.” The “dizzying” variety of relationships AB had with the debtor included A being “a principal” of the debtor, co-counsel for himself, co-counsel to the trustee of a trust holding settlement funds, defendant in a fraudulent conveyance action brought by other creditors, and co-counsel for the debtor, and a plaintiff in another estate-related matter. B, as well, enjoyed many similar roles in, or related to, this proceeding. The court also noted that A and B were most surely going to be important witnesses in the various cases. In addition AB is the largest creditor of the estate.

        In re Horvath, 2017 WL 1017727 (N.D. Ohio March 10, 2017). Chapter 7. Trustee’s counsel (“Law Firm”) applied for fees. Certain creditors objected to the fees in part because Law Firm had a conflict of interest. The conflict claim emanates from Law Firm’s representation of Bank on matters unrelated to this proceeding. Bank is a creditor of the estate. In documents relating to its retention by Trustee Law Firm declared it would not participate in any proceeding that could be detrimental to Bank. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge overruled the conflict claim and allowed the fees.

        Selenberg v. Bates, 2017 WL 1822310 (5th Cir. May 8, 2017). Lawyer failed to file, on time, a suit for Client. Lawyer had no insurance and was in financial difficulty. So, Lawyer gave Client a note for $275,000. Lawyer later filed bankruptcy. The bankruptcy judge and the district judge held that the debt was non-dischargeable. In this opinion the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that giving the note in violation of Louisiana’s version of MR 1.8(h) - that is, not advising Client in writing to get another lawyer’s advice - constituted a “false representation” within the meaning of Bankruptcy Act § 523(a)(2)(A).

        In re Grimmett, 2017 WL 2437231 (D. Idaho June 5, 2017). Chapter 7, filed by Lawyer for Debtor. Because of Lawyer’s clumsy threats to strong-arm Debtor into paying Lawyer’s fee, the bankruptcy judge ruled that Lawyer had a conflict of interest. The court was also critical of the retainer agreement. The court ordered the retainer agreement void, excused Debtor from paying any more fees, and ordered Lawyer to disgorge fees already paid.

        Selenberg v. Bates, 2017 WL 1822310 (5th Cir. May 8, 2017). Lawyer failed to file, on time, a suit for Client. Lawyer had no insurance and was in financial difficulty. So, Lawyer gave Client a note for $275,000. Lawyer later filed bankruptcy. The bankruptcy judge and the district judge held that the debt was non-dischargeable. In this opinion the Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that giving the note in violation of Louisiana’s version of MR 1.8(h) - that is, not advising Client in writing to get another lawyer’s advice - constituted a “false representation” within the meaning of Bankruptcy Act § 523(a)(2)(A).

        In re WM Dist., Inc., 2017 WL 2688233 (D.N.M. June 21, 2017). Chapter 11 Debtor No. 1 (“This Case”) and Debtor No. 2 (“Other Case”) are in the cigarette business. No. 1 is largely a distributor, and No. 2 is largely a manufacturer. They share ownership in varying degrees. No. 1 distributes No. 2’s cigarettes. One leases property from the other. No. 2 is listed as No. 1’s largest creditor. No. 1 owns the trademark in No. 2’s most popular brand. There is more, but being more complete will not help the analysis. Law Firm represents No. 2 in the Other Case. Law Firm seeks to be bankruptcy counsel to No. 1 in This Case. Various players in this scenario claim that Law Firm would have a debilitating conflict in representing both debtors. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge agreed, holding there were just too many ways each debtor would benefit from separate counsel. Thus, this is an “actual conflict” within the meaning of Bankruptcy Act § 327(c).

        In re Pilgrim Med. Ctr, Inc., 2017 WL 3311227 (D.N.J. July 26, 2017). The primary issue to this audience is whether counsel for the creditors' committee ("Law Firm") had a conflict that would deprive it of fees. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge said it did not. Law Firm did represent several bank/creditors in matters other than this one. Moreover, those banks accounted for a very small percentage of Law Firm's business.

        In re Cuzco Devel. U.S.A., LLC, 2017 WL 3616581 (D. Haw. Aug. 22, 2017). Law Firm for Debtor moved for approval of the remainder of its fee. A party objected because of Law Firm's earlier representation of a party arguably adverse to Debtor. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge rejected that position and approved the fee award. The court noted that Law Firm hadp fully disclosed the earlier representation at the outset of this case and that Law Firm's representation of the other party had ceased prior to the filing of this case. Also, events had resulted in the other party's and Debtor's interests having become largely aligned.

        In re Fish & Fisher, Inc., 2017 WL 3891784 (S.D. Miss. Sept. 1, 2017). This case relates to compensation to an accounting firm ("AF"), not a law firm. However, the principles discussed would apply to either. In short, in denying rehearing, the court compared §§ 207(a) and 208(c) of the Bankruptcy Act. In this case AF had failed to disclose properly a possible conflict when it was retained by the debtor. It is nevertheless requesting fees. The court reiterated that it had discretion under the Act to award fees under these circumstances. It upheld its earlier ruling that AF’s work had benefited the estate but that fees be reduced 12.5% as a sanction for failing to make the required disclosure.

        In re Kretchmar, 2017 WL 4457446 (W.D. Okla. Oct. 4, 2017). Chapter 7. Certain parties sought disqualification of the law firm ("Law Firm") that is representing both Trustee and Creditor. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the motion, but warned that if Creditor sought a security interest in any assets to the detriment of the unsecured creditors, Law Firm would be disqualified. The opinion contains what appears to be a good discussion of the relationship between Section 327(a) and Section 327(b) of the Bankruptcy Act. It also discusses the difference between an actual conflict and a potential one.

        In re Shelnut, 2017 WL 4457440 (S.D. Ga. Oct. 4, 2017). Chapter 11. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge allowed in part and denied in part fees sought by counsel for Debtor. The court discussed the disclosure requirements regarding fees paid to counsel and the relationship of the payor to Debtor. The analysis was too fact-specific to be of much precedential value.

        In re ProFlo Indus., LLC, 2018 WL 615122 (N.D. Ohio Jan. 29, 2018). Creditor moved for appointment of a Chapter 11 trustee. Creditor claimed that one reason for the motion is that the sole member of the Debtor is represented by Lawyer. Lawyer was previously disqualified from representing the Debtor because she represented too many parties, including Debtor, the sole member, the member's father, and a related entity. In denying appointment of a trustee, the court held that because Debtor is now represented by a different, disinterested, lawyer, Lawyer's current representation of just the member is not a reason for such appointment.

        In re Ridgeway, 2018 WL 1116531 (E.D. La. Feb. 27, 2018). Chapter 11. Law Firm represented Debtor in litigation and sought fees of about $1 million. One of the objections to the fees was that Law Firm failed to disclose its representation of Company, which was owned by Debtor. Law Firm also failed to disclose that Company had guaranteed the fees that Debtor would incur in the litigation. In this opinion the court reduced the fee by $25,000, for the non-disclosure. Law Firm avoided a "heavy sanction" for the non-disclosure because the estate was not harmed. The court ultimately made substantial other reductions based upon billing issues, resulting in an overall fee of about $650,000.

        In re Grasso, 2018 WL 3036735 (E.D. Pa. June 15, 2018). Lawyer represents Debtor. This case started out as a Chapter 11 and became a Chapter 7. This opinion deals with Lawyer's entitlement to fees. The bankruptcy judge found Lawyer's services to be so deficient that Lawyer was entitled to no additional fees and must disgorge what he had already received. The deficiencies were many and not worth completely repeating here. One problem that stood out was the accuracy of the bankruptcy filings. While Lawyer blamed Debtor for inaccuracies, the court noted that Lawyer repeatedly turned a blind eye to things that should have alerted him to the inaccuracies. Another issue was that Lawyer was representing Debtor individually, apart from the bankruptcy, and failed to show the judge how this was not inimical to the estate. There was much, much more, but this gives you a flavor of things. In the court's eyes Lawyer's conduct was so troubling that the court ordered the opinion sent to bar disciplinary authorities.

        Strict Standing Rule for Bankruptcy Litigants (posted July 18, 2018) In re Technicool Sys., Inc., 2018 WL 3429943 (5th Cir. July 16, 2018). Chapter 7 trustee sought to employ Law Firm as "special counsel" to consolidate Debtor with other related businesses and pierce the corporate veil. Debtor's owner ("Owner") objected claiming Law Firm was not a disinterested person under 11 U.S.C. § 327(a). The bankruptcy court and district court held Owner lacked standing to object. In this opinion the Fifth Circuit agreed. The court discussed the need for a strict standing requirement to prevent endless appeals in multi-party proceedings. In this case Owner could not show a direct economic harm from the appointment. In the court's words, "The order must burden his pocket before he burdens a docket." [Note: This is an amended opinion, superseding one dated June 20, 2018, and posted here on June 22, 2018. Same result, so we did not look for changes in the opinion.]

        Greene v. InforMD, LLC, 2018 WL 3579470 (M.D. La. July 25, 2018). The bankruptcy judge, over a creditor's objection, authorized Trustee to retain Law Firm as "Special Counsel" to pursue claims against current and former members of Debtor. Prior to the bankruptcy proceeding Law Firm had represented three current members of Debtor. These members have signed consents to this retention anticipating that Law Firm might be adverse to them. In this opinion the district judge affirmed, holding that the bankruptcy court "did not abuse its discretion" in approving the retention.

        Fann Contracting, Inc. v. Garman Turner Gordon LLP, 2018 WL 4682325 (D. Nev. Sept. 27, 2018). The Chapter 11 Trustee hired Law Firm on a contingent fee basis. Later, when the firm sought fees, a creditor objected. One of the objections was that the contingent fee created an impermissible conflict of interest. The bankruptcy court allowed Law Firm its fees. In this opinion the court vacated the bankruptcy court's order and remanded so the bankruptcy court could consider the reasonableness of the fees under 11 U.S.C § 330. As to the conflict allegation, the court held that a contingent fee agreement, without more, does not create an impermissible conflict.

        Coan v. Dunne, 2019 WL 302674 (D. Conn. Jan. 22, 2019). In this bankruptcy proceeding the trustee sought to employ Law Firm to handle litigation for the estate and against several third parties. Law Firm had represented one of those third parties until 2016. In this opinion the court denied the retention because this case is substantially related to the earlier representation of the third party under Rule 1.9(a). [Our note: We choose not to describe the routine substantial relationship analysis here. What piqued our interest was the court's comparison of 11 U.S.C. §327 with Rule 1.9(a). The court held that retention of Law Firm would not violate §327 because that section does not apply to a lawyer's former conflict; Rule 1.9(a), of course, does. That distinction may be valid, but we have not seen it made in 18 years of reading conflicts and bankruptcy cases.]

        In re Sanasy, 2019 WL 642836 (D. Me. Feb. 14, 2019).  Chapter 7. The trustee applied to employ Law Firm as special counsel to pursue a fraudulent transfer claim against Debtor and her son. Debtor objected because of Law Firm's conflict. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the application because Law Firm had an "interest" "adverse" to Debtor under 11 U.S.C § 327(e) (the special counsel provision). Law Firm had, pre-petition, represented Debtor, and Debtor owed Law Firm fees. Post-petition, Law Firm brought a fraudulent conveyance action against Debtor under a Maine statute, alleging that funds were conveyed unlawfully to Debtor's son. Another basis for denial of Law Firm's retention was that its handling the claim for the trustee could violate Law Firm's obligations to Debtor as its former client.

        In Re Earl Gaudio & Son, Inc., 2019 WL 1429978 (C.D. Ill. March 29, 2019). We have written often of Section 327 of the Bankruptcy Act. It sets forth standards for the employment of professionals in bankruptcy proceedings. We have mentioned less frequently Rule 2014 of the Bankruptcy Rules, which sets forth disclosure requirements in connection with Section 327 applications. This includes disclosure of "all of the person's connections with the debtor, creditors", and other parties "in interest.". In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied large chunks of compensation for Debtor's counsel ("Law Firm") and a corporate custodian ("Bank") for repeatedly failing to make required disclosures. They failed to disclose their work on trusts for Debtor's owners and involvement in state court proceedings directly involving Debtor and its property. The court also found Law Firm's accounting and billing accuracy woefully deficient. We see little point in providing further details here. We just wanted to re-emphasize the importance of Rule 2014 to bankruptcy practitioners.

        In re M&P Collections, Inc., 2019 WL 1975925 (W.D. Ky. April 30, 2019). This Chapter 11 case has two debtors, M&P, a debt collection company, and F&M, its law firm.  The debtors jointly applied to retain the Kaplan law firm to administer the estates. The U.S. Trustee objected because F&M's schedules show that it owes M&P about $1 million, a debt that is not disputed. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the application. First, both debtors owe the first secured creditor $3 million more than the amount raised in the sale of the debtors' assets. Second, it is highly unlikely that the estates will raise any additional funds. Thus, the Kaplan law firm does not have an "actual conflict," only a "potential" one. The court did say that it would entertain a U.S. Trustee objection if an actual conflict did materialize.

        In re Kretchmar, 2019 WL 2612731 (W.D. Okla. June 25, 2019). Chapter 7. Law Firm is representing both the trustee and the estate's largest creditor ("Creditor") in making various claims against Debtor's parents and a farm partnership, in which Debtor is a partner. This includes a claim that the farm should be substantively consolidated with Debtor for purposes of this estate. The parents moved to disqualify Law Firm, in part because it has a conflict of interest. In a fact intensive analysis the court found that the trustee's and Creditor's interests were aligned.

In re Mack Indus., LTD, 2019 WL 3822315 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 14, 2019). The Chapter 7 trustee sued 440 parties alleging preferential or fraudulent transfers. Lawyer represents 52 of the defendants. The trustee moved to disqualify Lawyer because Lawyer had previously, and briefly, represented a debtor while under Chapter 11 and then represented two debtors when they became Chapter 7 debtors. To remove the suggestion of impropriety, Lawyer dropped the debtors as clients. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the motion to disqualify. (Warning: We are keeping this brief - maybe too brief.) First the court ruled that Lawyer never represented the trustee or the estate; he represented only the debtors. Thus, Lawyer did not violate Rule 1.7 or Rule 1.9. Rule 1.7 did not apply simply because Lawyer owed no duty of loyalty to the trustee or the estate. The same analysis applied to Rule 1.9. Nevertheless, the court assumed, arguendo, that Rule 1.9 did apply. In a fact-intensive analysis the court concluded that these cases are not substantially related to Lawyer's work for the debtors, and there was no danger that Lawyer learned anything from the debtors that would give Lawyer a leg-up in these cases. [Our note: We have been doing this for nearly 20 years. This is the first case we have seen where a court - one way or the other - for conflicts purposes, distinguished representing a bankruptcy debtor versus the trustee or the estate. Brave bankruptcy judge.]

        In re Nestor, 2019 WL 4735833 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 26, 2019). Brenda Nestor was PR of the decedent's estate of Victor Posner, a prominent financier. Her work was not satisfactory, so the probate court replaced her with a "curator" (a temporary estate watchdog under Florida law). Nestor then filed this Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding and became the debtor in possession. In that role she hired several different law firms, mostly to handle state court litigation. One firm, Oppenheim Law, in its fee application, declared that it was disinterested. The problem was that Oppenheim had represented Nestor pre-petition, and was owed fees at the time of the petition. Moreover, those fees were paid post-petition. None of that was disclosed to the court during Oppenheim's representation of Nestor. In response to Oppenheim's fee application the court noted that it could deny all fees. However, the bankruptcy judge in this opinion allowed a reduced amount. Oppenheim had sought some $211,000 in fees. The court reduced that to some $116,000. That is the key conflicts point among a myriad of issues in the opinion.

        In re Decade, S.A.C., LLC, 2020 WL 564903 (D. Del. Feb. 5, 2020). The principal issue in this opinion is whether the Chapter 7 trustee can hire Troutman Sanders LLP as special litigation counsel. The bankruptcy judge approved the retention. In this opinion the district judge affirmed. The relationships of the parties and the machinations leading to the retention are too numerous and fact-specific to justify a full recital here. Troutman had previously represented the main creditor of the estate, but the claims of that creditor were settled. Thus, the court found that the interests of that creditor and the trustee were now aligned. This opinion contains a lengthy discussion of the requirements of §§ 327 & 328 of the Bankruptcy Act, and the concepts, "actual conflict" and "potential conflict."

        Re Fundamental Long Term Care, Inc., 2020 WL 954982 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 27, 2020). The probate estates of six nursing home patients brought wrongful death cases against a nursing home operator ("Operator"), which is the debtor in this case Chapter 7 case. The probate estates are the only creditors in this case. When it appeared that certain third parties had looted Operator via fraudulent transfers and the like, the Chapter 7 trustee hired Law Firm as "special litigation counsel" to pursue claims against those parties. At some point Law Firm withdrew as litigation counsel, but continued to assist the trustee. The probate estates filed a motion to disqualify Law Firm and for disgorgement of fees. The motion was based on the fact that for many years Law Firm had represented the owner of the property upon which the offending nursing homes were located and did not disclose that relationship as required by Bankruptcy Rule 2014. The bankruptcy judge denied the motion. While the facts and relationships here are complex, the court's ruling was based essentially upon the fact that the property owner/client had nothing to do with operation of the nursing homes. Further, the court found that Law Firm's violation of Rule 2014 was not intentional. In this opinion the district judge affirmed as to disqualification, but remanded the case to the bankruptcy judge to determine whether the Rule 2014 violation was "negligent," such that Law Firm should be sanctioned. Upon remand the bankruptcy judge found that sanctions were not warranted, In re Fundamental Long Term Care, Inc., No. 8:11-bk-22258-MGW (M.D. Fla. April 16, 2020).

        In re Duvall, No. 19-11272(1)(12) (W.D. Ky. March 25, 2020). Chapter 12 of the Bankruptcy Act is the rarely-used part of the Act that applies to certain farmers and fishermen. This opinion involves two couples, Joshua and Brandi Duvall, and Nathan and Jaime Duvall. Both couples filed Chapter 12 petitions, and the cases are administratively consolidated. Joshua and Nathan are brothers and farm as a partnership. All four debtors applied to retain Law Firm to represent them. Law Firm had prepared both Chapter 12 petitions. The trustees for each case objected to the application, as did the U.S. Trustee. The court granted the application, without prejudice, because the objectors were not able to identify a current conflict to the court's satisfaction. The court said it would "wait and see." [BTW, for some reason, the version of the case we found was entitled "In re Joshua." We assume "Duvall" is the appropriate name.]

        In re Vascular Access Centers, L.P., Chapter 11 Bankruptcy No. 19-17117-AMC (E.D. Pa. April 6, 2020). LLC hired Law Firm to explore bankruptcy. LLC was general partner of LP. Almost immediately, Law Firm determined that LP, not LLC, should file for bankruptcy. So, Law Firm began representing LP. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge approved Law Firm's retention as debtor's counsel, but sanctioned Law Firm for inadequate disclosures of its interests. As to retention, the court found a "potential conflict" but not an "actual conflict." Thus, the court had discretion as to disqualifying Law Firm. LLC is adverse to LP in this case. But Law Firm had represented LLC for only three days, and its representation of LLC and LP did not overlap. Thus, Law Firm could continue. The court was very critical of Law Firm's violation of Rule 2014(a) in not disclosing its various connections to the parties. So, the court denied Law Firm any fees for the period prior to making such disclosures this past January.

        In re HCP Sys., LLC, No. 18-11984-ta7 (D.N.M. May 7, 2020). The Title 7 trustee moved to retain lawyer Angelo Artuso to bring claims by the estate against Rita Torres and another defendant. Artuso is suing Torres on behalf of Leda Cook in state court. The trustee believed that knowledge Artuso gained in the Cook case gave him an advantage in this case. Cook is a creditor of the estate. Torres objected to the retention of Artuso. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge approved the retention, "without prejudice." Cook and Artuso had agreed to put Cook's state court case on hold. The court noted that, down the road, Cook and the estate could be competing for limited funds if Torres did not have sufficient wealth to satisfy both cases. The court said that at that point Artuso would have to drop Cook or the estate. Or, the parties could enter into a "pooling agreement, approved by the Court after notice and a hearing," citing Kittay v. Kornstein, 230 F.3d 531 (2d Cir. 2000).

        In re Boy Scouts of Am. & Del. BSA, LLC, No 20-10343(LSS) (D. Del. May 29, 2020). BSA applied to retain Sidley Austin as "restructuring counsel" in this Chapter 11 case. Century Indem. Co., a unit of Chubb, was the only party objecting. Until recently Sidley represented Chubb and Century on various matters, including Century's disputes with its reinsurer over claims against BSA. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge overruled Century's objection and approved Sidley's retention. In January 2020 Sidley informed Chubb that it was withdrawing from all Chubb and Century matters. That process completed in February. As for §327(a), it is written in the present tense, so it does not prevent Sidley's retention. The court also looked to Rule 1.9. Based upon conflicting testimony, the court concluded that Sidley's earlier reinsurance work for Century "could be 'substantially related' to at least some aspects" of this case. However, the court was influenced by the fact that "conflicts counsel" would be handling BSA's insurance matters and that Sidley had erected a screen between its reinsurance group and the BSA restructuring team. Last, the court noted a number of cases that appear at our page, "Current Client, Part 1," under "No Harm, No Foul."

        In re Art Van Furniture, LLC, No. 20-10553 (CSS) (D. Del. July 21, 2020). Law Firm seeks to become Debtor's counsel in what has become a Chapter 7 case. Earlier in the matter Law Firm represented Bank, a secured creditor of Debtor, in an attempt to work out a restructuring. Bank and Debtor had executed a waiver allowing Law Firm to represent Debtor in matters possibly adverse to Bank. After failure to agree on a restructuring, Law Firm continued to represent Bank on unrelated matters. The U.S. Trustee was the only objector to Law Firm's retention. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge approved Law Firm's retention. Much of the court's reasoning dealt with the terms of the waiver including distinctions between the terms, "dispute" and "the transaction." The court found that Law Firm's retention would not violate the terms of the waiver. The court further found that there was no actual conflict or potential conflict and that Law Firm's retention was consistent with Section 327 of the Bankruptcy Act.

        In re Rockstar Remodeling & Diamond Decks, LLC, No. 20-50997-cag (W.D. Tex. Aug. 21, 2020). Kyle Brooks and Donald Ferguson have been important members of Debtor, Rockstar. Rockstar's Trustee, over Brooks' objection, seeks, in this case, to retain Lawyer as Special Litigation Counsel to seek declaratory relief that Brooks is no longer a member of Rockstar. In a separate state court action ("the Other Case") Brooks is suing Ferguson individually for committing bad acts against Rockstar resulting in loss to Brooks. Lawyer appeared for Ferguson in the Other Case. Rockstar, represented by Lawyer, intervened in the Other Case. The state court trial judge disqualified Lawyer from representing Rockstar in the Other Case. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge approved the retention of lawyer in this case, rejecting Brooks' objection. The court found no conflict because Lawyer in this case and in the Other Case "seeks to advocate for clients legal arguments that are adverse to Brooks." The court said Brooks could move to disqualify Lawyer in the future if he can produce "evidence of actual prejudice." The bankruptcy judge declined to "give comity" to the state court judge's disqualification order in the Other Case because it "relates only to that cause number."

        In re NNN 400 Capital Cir. 16, LLC, No. 16-12728 (JTD) (D. Del. Sept. 4, 2020). In this opinion the bankruptcy judge found: (1) that Law Firm failed to disclose a fee sharing agreement in violation of Section 327 of the Bankruptcy Code and Bankruptcy Rule 2014; (2) failed to disclose a post-petition fee-sharing agreement with a loan broker, in violation of of Section 329 of the Bankruptcy Code and Bankruptcy Rule 2016(b); (3) caused Debtors to pay expenses of the loan broker; (4) violated Section 327(e) of the Bankruptcy Code as to the fee-sharing agreement; (5) violated MR 1.8(a) as to the fee-sharing agreement; (6) failed to disclose an earlier representation of one of the Debtors' largest creditors; and (7) filed false declarations with respect to some of the above. As a result the judge ordered Law Firm disqualified and ordered disgorgement of all fees. We invite the reader to review, in the opinion, the facts that led to this result.

        Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP v. Glenview Health Care Facility, Inc., No. 19-8028 (6th Cir. Bankr. App. Panel Nov. 6, 2020). Chapter 11 Debtor is a nursing home. Lisa Howlett is a one-half owner. The creditors' committee applied to retain Law Firm. Debtor objected. In 2016-2017 Law Firm had done estate planning for Howlett. This included a buy-sell agreement for Debtor, which was never consummated. The bankruptcy judge denied Law Firm's retention. In this opinion the appeal panel vacated the denial. In a very fact-specific analysis the court considered application of Sections 1103 and 327 of the Bankruptcy Act and Rules 1.9 and 1.10 of the Kentucky Rules of Professional Conduct. At bottom, Debtor failed to show how Law Firm's knowledge gained in the estate planning would prejudice the parties in the Chapter 11 proceeding. Also, the court credited Law Firm for erecting a screen between the estate planning lawyers and the lawyers handling this case.

        In re Destin Res. LLC, Nos. 17-51634 & 17-51570 (W.D. La. Nov. 6, 2020). The debtors in these consolidated Chapter 7 cases ("Debtors") were mineral (oil and gas) lessees. The field in question has played out, and the debtors face liabilities relating to abandonment that they are unable to pay. Thus, the bankruptcy filing. The Chapter 7 Trustee seeks to hire two law firms ("Law Firms") to pursue possible claims against other entities that were in the chain of title to the field. The catch is that Law Firms already represent two other creditors of these estates. These other creditors issued indemnity bonds at the request of, and to protect, two federal agencies from abandonment and clean-up expenses. Two creditors objected to Law Firms' retention, triggering § 327(c) of the Bankruptcy Act. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge overruled the objections and approved Law Firms' retention. The court found that (a) Law Firms were "disinterested," (b) that there was no conflict between the bonding companies and the bankruptcy estate, and (c) that their interests were aligned. [Our note: We have chosen not to describe in detail the court's lengthy analyses of the interplay of §§ 327 & 328, and how the parties' interests are aligned, because we do not fully follow them (probably our problem).]

        In re Black & White Stripes, LLC, No. 20-12439 (MG) (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 4, 2020). Chapter 11. Debtors are two LLCs in the entertainment business. Debtors are both 50% owned by Owners 1 and 2. Owners 1 and 2 are not parties to this proceeding. A and B are the two largest creditors. Debtors seek to retain Law Firm as "Debtors' bankruptcy counsel." A, B, and the U.S. Trustee objected to the retention. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge denied the retention. Law Firm's problem was that it had represented both Debtors and Owners 1 and 2 in state court litigation brought by A and B. It appears that Law Firm's representation of Owners 1 and 2 had ended when Law Firm was allowed to withdraw from the state court litigation. Nevertheless, the court believed that Law Firm would have difficulty prosecuting avoidance claims by the estate against Law Firm's former clients, Owners 1 and 2. The court noted that avoidance claims against Owners 1 and 2 seemed likely, but that Law Firm was downplaying them. There were other wrinkles in Law Firm's filings and conduct, in both the state court action and in this case, that clearly colored the court's attitude about the retention. The court added that, in any event, given possible claims between the two Debtors, they should have separate representation.

        In re Imerys Talc Am., Inc., C.A. No. 19-944 (MN), et al. (D. Del. Nov. 24, 2020). Imerys moved to employ James Patton as "Future Claimants' Representative," and his law firm, Young Conaway, as Patton's lawyers. Two of Imerys' excess insurance carriers ("InsCos") objected to both retentions because Young Conaway represents InsCos in another asbestos litigation ("Warren Pumps"). The bankruptcy judge approved the retentions, and InsCos appealed. In this opinion the court affirmed the bankruptcy judge. First, Young Conaway is not representing any talc claimants. Second, InsCos signed advance conflict waivers in Warren Pumps. The court found InsCos to be "sophisticated parties" with "enough information" to effectively waive future conflicts. The waiver expressly included the kinds of trusts used in this case under section 524(g) of the Bankruptcy Code (providing for future claimants' representatives). Third, Young Conaway had erected a screen between the lawyers in Warren Pumps and the lawyers in this case. Last, the court likened this case to ABA Op. 05-435 (2004), which approved a law firm's representing a claimant against an insured of an insurance company that the law firm happens to represent in transactional matters.

        In re Thompson, 2021 WL 726070 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 23, 2021). Lawyer filed this Chapter 7 petition on behalf of Debtor. The petition showed that Debtor's debts exceeded her assets. Chapter 7 Trustee sued Debtor's daughter to recover certain pre-petition transfers from Debtor. Lawyer appeared for the daughter. Trustee moved to disqualify Lawyer from representing the daughter. In this opinion the bankruptcy judge granted the motion. The court said that the daughter would be trying to justify the transfers on the basis that Debtor was not insolvent at the time of the transfers. However, Lawyer assisted in preparing the Chapter 7 petition, which showed that Debtor was insolvent at the time of "at least one of the transfers."

        In re Pope, No. 20-22889-GMH (E.D. Wis. March 31, 2021). Law Firm represented Mr. and Mrs. Pope in filing their Chapter 11 petition and became debtors' counsel in this case. Law Firm violated Bankruptcy Rule 2014 by failing to disclose a pre-petition transaction wherein Mr. Pope had sold his gas station. The terms of that sale, handled by Law Firm, could have impacted Law Firm's compensation. Post-petition, the U.S. Trustee learned of the transaction, moved to disqualify Law Firm, and moved that Law Firm forfeit fees. In this opinion the court expressed concern about the omission but felt that creditors' and debtors' interests were best protected by keeping Law Firm in the case. The court did not order a fee forfeiture, but did say the U.S. Trustee could seek a fee adjustment when Law Firm requests the court for compensation from the estate.