Laurie B. Williams is a much-needed commodity in Wichita, Kansas. While few are excited to meet with her, all require her help, because she is the city’s Chapter 13 trustee.
Fred Mann, reporting for the Wichita Eagle, reports that Williams is working overtime, holding more than 40 meetings on one recent afternoon.
She meets with bankruptcy petitioners in the basement of the U.S. courthouse in downtown Wichita, using a laptop and tape recorder to chronicle their plans for emerging from debt.
In front of her desk are 30 office chairs arranged in rows, all filled with debtors and their attorneys waiting to meet with her in an effort to save homes, vehicles, and in some cases, everything.
Williams has worked as the Chapter 13 trustee in Wichita for almost a decade, and during that time she cannot recall times like these, which have led to her 1,900 pending cases.
She reports seeing between 6 and 10 additional cases a month during the recession.
"It seems to be striking now at small-business owners and at all levels of professions," she reports. "It's not just the hourly worker."
As a trustee, Williams reviews the plans submitted by petitioners and sees them through to completion.
She collects payments from debtors and disperses them to creditors, while holding back a small percentage for her fee.
Williams holds what are called "341 hearings", which take their name from the section of the U.S. bankruptcy code that established them.
The meetings take place between twenty and forty days following a debtor filing bankruptcy.
Creditors are also permitted to be present at these meetings, but few actually attend.
Williams informs debtors that they will be required to take debtor education programs as a part of their process. She confirms the identity of each petitioner and swears them in, as the meeting is a legal procedure.
She asks them a series of questions regarding their bankruptcy applications and finds out what changes they have made, also discovering whether or not they pay child support and filed tax returns for the past four years.
Each petitioner has already submitted a payment plan, which Williams will review. She is allowed to make objections if the plan does not conform to the law or seem feasible.
The meetings last just a few minutes, but all parties are feeling the tension, and most debtors answer quietly in one-word responses as Williams examines their plans, looking for problems that might derail them. She often wracks her brain to understand some of the more creative plans presented to her each day.
After four hours, her waiting area finally clears out. She anticipates many more equally busy days over the next several weeks.
After a petitioner meets with Williams, they move on to a confirmation hearing with a judge, who will determine whether their plans meet the requirements of the bankruptcy code.
Williams sees the bright side in her job.
"It's a good feeling to see everyone get through the process and be successful," she says.
Still, it's not easy to always put away the emotions of the day. "It is difficult. It's hard not to wonder. I always think how I would feel if I was losing my home or not able to pay my bills each month."
Source: Wichita Eagle