What Do I Do About My Dismissed Case Due To Lawyer And Trustee Errors?
I worked up over $30,000 worth of debt, and was advised that my best option was bankruptcy. After searching for a good attorney, I settled on the firm of Robert G. Winterbotham, mostly due to their local availability. The person in my local office was more than helpful in setting everything up, even allowing me longer than usual to pay off the rest of my $900 fee. Once that was done, my 341(a) Meeting of Creditors was scheduled for November 14, 2002. Among the many items I received in the mail giving me information on my court date, I received a reminder from my attorney's office of the date, time, and location. The time was stated as 1:30 P.M. I apparently mistakenly trusted my attorneys instead of comparing this information to that listed on other items. The morning of the meeting I could not find this letter, so I called my attorneys to verify the address. I was informed that my meeting had been at 8:00 A.M., and I had missed it. I was then informed that it would be automatically continued. It was continued to December 12, but I was going to be out of town that date, and my airline tickets were non-refundable. A family member who deals in bankruptcy law suggested that I request a waive of appearance. I did so and was informed that these are only given in cases of hospitalization of incarceration. She did offer to try to get my meeting rescheduled. She was successful, and it was changed to December 26th at 10:00 A.M. On the evening of December 24th, Christmas Eve, I received an official letter from the Trustee's office, identical to those I had received for each prior meeting, stating that my meeting had been continued to January 9th of this year. After carefully reviewing it to make sure it seemed accurate, and discussing it with the family member, I decided it was trustworthy. I was relieved not to have to get up early after a hopefully nice Christmas evening. On the 28th I received a letter from my attorney telling me that due to my lack of appearance, my case would be dismissed. I immediately put in a phone call to her, but was routed to her voice mail. I left voice mail messages every day for a week before I expressed my upset to her secretary and she was miraculously back in the office. I asked her about the situation, she put me on hold, and returned to tell me that I needed to appear at my case, or it would be dismissed. I asked to verify that it was the 9th, and she rudely informed me that she had received the same letter I had, and promptly got off the phone. On the 9th I showed up, met with an attorney from my firm, with my file in hand, who informed me that I was not on the calendar, and he was working on the problem. He then brought out the Assistant Trustee Administrator who told me to call her that afternoon for more information. I called her, and she explained that the letter had apparently gone out in error, they weren't sure where it came from, and that my case had, in fact, been dismissed. She said she would work on figuring out a solution to the problem. Several days later I received a call from my attorney, rudely informing me that I was screwed (in more polite, but just as rude terms). She placed all blame on me, refused to believe I had ever received a letter from their offices stating the incorrect time, and stating that I essentially should have known better than to trust the letter from the Trustee's office, as it was in error, meant nothing, and wasn't even from the court (even though the letter stated, in very large print, "UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT"). I continued to assure her that I had a letter stating the wrong time, and she told me I had to fax it to her if it really existed. In the meantime she would see about getting permission from her superiors to file for a motion to set aside the 180 bar from re-filing, at my cost, and then re-file, at my cost. I found the letter, scanned it, and wrote a letter detailing the events. Just as I was about to send it she informed me that she had spoken to her superior in another office, that he had reviewed my file, and that based on the information he had, there had been no error on their part, full blame on me, and the most he was willing to do was discount the cost of the motion to $250, besides my $900 to re-file. I asked if the letter I had would change anything, and she stated she had no proof the letter existed. I again reminded her that I was about to fax it, and she assured me it would likely mean nothing. I faxed it anyway, and called her back to verify she had received it. She stated the whole thing was out of her hands, and if I wanted to discuss it further, to talk to her superior. I got his name and number from her, and was informed that he was no longer in the office. I called, and sure enough, he was in the office. He was busy, though, and his secretary talked to him for me. She came back and informed me that he was backlogged with problems being sent by the attorney who had forwarded me to him, and that he hadn't had time to review my file yet. I asked to her to reconfirm what she had just said, and she told me that he hadn't even had time to request my file from the other office. I thanked her, asked if I could fax her the letter I had faxed my attorney, and then did so. She told me he would get back to me by the following Monday, which was yesterday. Today I called, and was told he was going to fax me a letter. I waited all day for it, end received it just before 5. It essentially stated that I was sore out of luck. They had no interest in taking any blame, especially as I had another chance after the meeting date that I had missed due to their error. The second date was missed due to the error of the Trustee's office, and although this firm is supposed to represent me in this matter, they apparently have no interest in dealing with the Trustee's office to have them fix their mistake. So, I'm left having wasted $900, facing having to pay another $1150 I don't have, and if I don't pay it, I'll go back to being sued by the multiple companies to which I owe over $30,000 to. Any advice? Anyone out there have similar experiences, or insight on how to handle this situation? Thank you in advance for any help you can offer.
I am not a lawyer, so I don't know your legal options. From what you wrote, it appears that you received other notices giving the correct date and time of the first meeting but somehow you ended up focusing on the one erroneous letter from your attorney. So, you missed the meeting. But, the meeting was automatically rescheduled for you anyway. When the new meeting conflicted with your personal plans, you involved a family member in the process who somehow acted on your behalf with the Bankruptcy Court. Your attorney didn't set the new meeting date up, your family friend did. Then, when you received a different notice from the Court which conflicted with what your family member had told you was arranged, you chose to skip the 12/26 date and planned to attend the 1/9 date. But, you knew that the new 1/9 date conflicted with the 12/26 date your family member said was arranged for you. You decided to pick the notice from the Court (with the 1/9 date), even though you believed your family member had made other arrangements with the Court. You apparently made no effort to reconcile the fact that you were being told two different dates at that point. You just took a chance and picked the later date to attend. I would have at least wondered if the notice regarding the 1/9 meeting wasn't a routine notice that was already in the pipeline before your family member made a special arrangement with the Court on your behalf to hold the meeting on 12/26. I think that if you look at the situation objectively, you would have to admit that you created some of the confusion regarding dates by bringing in your family member for some unoffical help, and then placed ALL of the blame for the missed dates on your attorney and/or the Court. It seems to me that the Court must have tried to accomodate you by working with your family member. And, it seems to me that you cut your attorney out of the loop for some of the process. I say, pay your attorney the extra money to straighten out the situation. Stop trying to put all of the blame on the Court and/or your attorney. Admit that you have at least some responsibility for the confusion that resulted. Rise above the details and recognize that you are trying to kiss off $30,000 of debt. If it costs an additional $250, chalk that up as an unexpected additional expense but make the smart business decision and pay the money and move on.
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