The Arizona Bankruptcy Court
Bankruptcy was established in the United States by the original version of the US Constitution. If the founding fathers included it in one of our original documents, it’s safe to assume that they felt bankruptcy was critically important to the new United States of America.
History of the Bankruptcy Court System
The US fought a long and costly war against the British in order to become a free and independent nation. One goal was to create a nation that was very different than England. We did away with royalty, taxation without representation and a stratified society. Another lesser-known issue involved debtor’s prison.
Back in England if you couldn’t afford to pay your creditors, you could go to jail. Many British citizens were locked up simply because they couldn’t afford to pay their bills. Obviously this was far more detrimental to the poor and working class than the rich who could easily afford to pay their debts – if they had any in the first place.
In order to avoid this unfair class-biased system, the founding fathers added bankruptcy to the constitution. They wanted to create a legal structure that allowed people some form of forgiveness when they ran into financial trouble. They felt it didn’t make sense to take contributing members of society and lock them away in jail, when they could be working to try and repay at least some of their debts.
In order to administer and regulate this bankruptcy system, the United States Bankruptcy Court was created. Although every state has at least one bankruptcy court, it is a federal system. Consequently, the federal government is able to make laws and regulations that control bankruptcy across the country. This creates a uniform system and allows someone to file bankruptcy in their home state while still being protected from creditors throughout the country and beyond.
States are granted limited freedom to control certain aspects of the bankruptcy law in their own jurisdiction. For example, a state can create its own bankruptcy exemptions. So in one state, you might be able to protect a home that has $150,000 in equity, while in another you might only be able to protect less than $30,000 in equity.
The Bankruptcy Court in Arizona
Like all states, Arizona has its own branch of the federal bankruptcy court system. Within Arizona there are several subdivisions to accommodate populations in the state. These locations are: Phoenix, Tucson, Yuma, Flagstaff and Bullhead City. The 341 meeting of creditors (a mandatory meeting for all bankruptcy filers) is held in these locations and also in Prescott and Florence, making attending a meeting convenient for all who file for Bankruptcy in Arizona.
The Arizona bankruptcy court is a busy system, accommodating Arizona’s population of over 5 million citizens. There are 24 bankruptcy trustees who handle the chapter 7 and chapter 13 cases that are filed yearly. In addition, chapter 11 business bankruptcy cases are handled by their own subgroup of the bankruptcy court.
What does it all cost?
The fees in Arizona vary depending on the case. Filing fees for a chapter 7 are currently $335 while it costs $310 to file a Chapter 13. There are various other fees as well, including those for amending a petition, adding creditors, converting a case, etc. The Arizona Bankruptcy Court website has a list of all of the possible fees.
The Court’s Website
The Arizona Bankruptcy Court has a user-friendly, interactive website that is very helpful to anyone who has filed for bankruptcy, is considering filing for bankruptcy, or is somehow involved in a bankruptcy case. The following list is a brief overview of the various sections of the website and how they are useful.
The Home Page – The home page has clickable rectangles that will take you to the most important parts of the site for non-attorneys. You can quickly get to areas such as the self-help center, the court calendar and the electronic access to court cases. It also has a list of court locations and up-to-date news and announcements. There is even an online chat available for general questions, or if you are having difficulty finding what you need on the website.
There are several tabs across the top of the page that will direct you to the rest of the website. You will find some of these detailed areas very useful. Others are geared more towards attorneys. We will go over this in detail; pointing out the parts of the website that will be most useful to someone looking for information or someone who is trying to file a case without an attorney.
Understanding Bankruptcy – This area of the website contains valuable information regarding bankruptcy itself. It is a great place to start if you just need some general information about bankruptcy. It also has a basics and a resources section that covers a lot of details about how the bankruptcy process works and the steps involved. If you are considering trying to file bankruptcy on your own, this is a very valuable resource.
Court Info – Here you can explore more detailed information about bankruptcy and find items that are specific to the Arizona court system. In this area you will find court holidays, locations, employment (for those of you who are not only looking to file but looking for a new job), a list of filing fees, filing statistics, general orders, local rules, a public notice for all court visitors (basically a list of policies the court follows), a list of important addresses, and a FAQ. The FAQ is probably the most valuable part of this section, especially if you are considering filing for bankruptcy without the help of an attorney.
Judges Info – Under this website tab is a section about courtroom technology. A lot of what’s listed is probably only useful to a bankruptcy attorney. However, one tab you might find extremely useful is the Electronic Case Information. This will show you the steps involved to find information about your case, or anyone else’s who has filed for bankruptcy in the Arizona court system.
Under judges information you will also find information about the Judicial Seminar, court opinions, and court procedures. These are fairly technical matters that probably won’t be useful for you, but the transcript order procedure might be needed if you want a transcript of a trustee meeting or other courtroom proceeding. This might be particularly useful if you are a creditor who missed a meeting but you want to hear exactly what was discussed.
For Attorneys – This is available to the public, but the information only applies to attorneys.
Filing Without an Attorney – The federal bankruptcy court recommends only filing a bankruptcy case with an attorney. There is too great a chance of losing money, assets, or having your case dismissed by the court if you file on your own. There’s even a video all about this topic in this section of the website by retired bankruptcy judge Charles Case II. However, it is perfectly within your rights if you do want to file on your own, and you’ll find this website tab valuable if you decide to file without an attorney.
The filing without an attorney section is broken into several areas, all of which are very useful if you are filing your case on your own. These sections include: Before You File, When You File, After You File, Self Help Center, Electronic Bankruptcy Noticing, and an FAQ for both creditors and debtors. If you choose to file on you own, you should study this section extremely thoroughly. Without an attorney, it is entirely up to you to ensure that your case is filed properly so you don’t lose any money, assets, or have your case dismissed.
Forms – In this section you will find free, downloadable court forms. If you are filing on your own, you’ll probably need a combination of court forms and national forms. This means you’ll have to go to two different tabs in this section to get the forms you need to file. Some are Arizona specific forms, and others are downloaded from the federal bankruptcy website. Even if you aren’t filing on your own, it may be useful for you to take a quick look at these forms to acquaint yourself with what’s involved in bankruptcy. However, if you hire an experienced bankruptcy attorney, you can rest easy knowing that he or she will ensure all of your relevant information has been reviewed before your case is filed, and reading these forms is probably redundant.
Case Info – This section includes several useful tabs. Case Management/Electronic Case Filing (CM/ECF) allows you to file documents electronically. You will first need to provide your information to the court so you can create a PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) account. Once you have the account set up, you’ll be able to file anything needed in your case online. If you are filing for bankruptcy on your own, it is recommended to file it in person at the court since they can be sure you are filing the right forms in the right way. However, if you are only adding something to your case, such as filing a form to add more creditors, you can probably do this safely with the online system.
If you are a creditor who is looking to show that you have a financial interest in a bankruptcy case, you will have to file a Proof of Claim. This can be done under the file a proof of claim tab in this section. This works differently than PACER, and is geared towards creditors who only occasionally file a proof of claim. This is common for small business owners.
This section also includes information on filing appeals, judge’s opinions, interest rates for pos-judgment items, and unclaimed funds. These areas are geared towards attorneys. However, there is also a tab here for accessing PACER which is useful if you are interested in looking up past bankruptcies, information about your own bankruptcy, or the court docket – which will tell you when and where court proceedings (such as the 341 meeting of creditors) are taking place. This is a good place to look if you have forgotten when and where your own 341 creditor meeting is taking place.
Office of the US Trustee – This area provides links to the Office of the US Trustee. This office oversees the bankruptcy court and addresses cases of potential wrongdoing by debtors, creditors, attorneys, and even trustees. You will not need to deal with the US Trustee’s office as a typical filer of bankruptcy.
Programs and Services – These are programs that are specific to attorneys. You will not need to use any of these programs if you are either filing on your own, getting general information about bankruptcy, or filing a bankruptcy with an attorney.
At the Arizona Bankruptcy Court
One of the primary purposes of the court building itself is to provide a place for the 341 meeting of creditors. If you file for bankruptcy, you will be attending this meeting. Depending on which court you attend, you will have to pass through security which often requires the removal of shoes, belts, and being scanned by hand. It’s just like the airport. Usually the lines aren’t too bad, but you will want to give yourself some extra time – just in case.
Parking at the Tucson and Phoenix locations requires some planning because they are located in downtown areas. On-street parking is available, but it requires paying the parking meter and a considerable walk. Parking garages are also available near both locations, for a fee of course.
The bankruptcy court provides public access computers. This will allow you to research a past or present bankruptcy case free of charge. Doing this from home will require you to sign up for a PACER account and typically will cost you money, depending on what you want to access. If you don’t mind a trip to the court, you’ll be able to do this for free.
If you are considering filing for bankruptcy on your own, the court will be an invaluable resource. The self-help center provides all sorts of useful tools to help you file your own bankruptcy case. You’ll find pamphlets that will help guide you through many of the issues you may face if you file for bankruptcy on your own. The self-help center also provides copies of the forms you’ll need to file your case, such as the bankruptcy petition. Why pay to print these things at home or at a copy center when you can do it for free?
Finally, the filing desk can be helpful too. You’ll have to deal with them if you’re filing on your own. This is where your case officially gets filed with the court and you pay your fees. They can’t answer your legal questions, but they know the bankruptcy petition and related forms inside and out. If you are wondering what form has to be filed with what, or when something has to be done before or after something else, they can answer those questions for you. Don’t be afraid to ask. If they don’t know the answer or aren’t allowed to address a certain issue (because it’s legal advice) they’ll politely let you know.
The Arizona bankruptcy court is here to help you with all of your bankruptcy needs. Whether you are an attorney, somebody who is looking for information, or someone who is trying to file your case on your own, you’ll find everything you need. And if you don’t know where to find it or how to do it, their friendly staff will be more than glad to help.