Judge Shields City Employees’ Names in Alabama County’s Bankruptcy
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Judge Shields City Employees’ Names in Alabama County’s Bankruptcy

April 12, 2012

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The bankruptcy judge handling the bankruptcy filing of Jefferson County, Alabama ruled this week that court documents showing the names and addresses of thousands of past and current county employees should be hidden from the public eye.

The primary U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Northern District of Alabama, Thomas B. Bennett, recently issued an order that forced the court’s clerk to block the documents from public view, according to a report from The Birmingham News.

The move is another interesting decision in a very odd bankruptcy case. In past years, only a few cities and counties have filed for bankruptcy in federal court, so Judge Bennett has had to make tough decisions on several novel legal issues.

In a motion filed last week, bankruptcy attorneys for Jefferson County asked that a list of names and addresses of county employees be shielded from prying public eyes.

Under their reasoning, these employees could be subjected to potential injury to themselves or their property if critics of the county’s bankruptcy filing were able to learn where the employees lived.

While this theory seems a bit far-fetched, the bankruptcy filing certainly angered some residents of Jefferson County, so the county’s attorneys were likely taking a wise step towards protecting the employees who may be aided by the bankruptcy.

Federal bankruptcy laws allow bankruptcy judges to restrict the disclosure of information that would create an “undue risk of identity theft or other unlawful injury to the individual or individual’s property,” according to the county’s legal brief.

Apparently, Judge Bennett agreed with the county’s claim that releasing the employees’ personal information subjected them to undue risk, and he acted accordingly, only 90 minutes after the request was filed.

The motion, however, is not yet final. The court will hold a hearing on the question next week, when it is likely to uphold the judge’s decision. The Jefferson County bankruptcy has captured the nation’s attention in recent weeks due to its massive scale.

Sources say that, in its petition, the county lists 4,161 different creditors who are owed roughly $4.6 billion in unpaid claims. Among the creditors were 3,240 current and past employees of the county, whose identities will now be safeguarded, at least for the foreseeable future.


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