From the Bench

Tina Brozman explains why cooperation and rehabilitation are key to better bankruptcies.

Tina Brozman has strong opinions on bankruptcy. The former chief judge of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York thinks the American practice of “rescuing” failed enterprises, rather than liquidating them, is one that other countries might do well to emulate.

On the other hand, she believes the U.S. should adopt the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s (UNCITRAL) model law for cross-border insolvencies, which provides for cooperation between foreign courts in insolvency cases. Brozman is partial to the model law because she helped craft it and served as the judge in the notorious case that inspired it — the 1991 bankruptcy of Maxwell Communications Corp. Adopted — or pending adoption — in seven countries so far, the model law has been “mired in politics” in the States as part of the current bankruptcy-reform legislation.

Now an attorney with Bingham McCutchen LLP, Brozman, 50, sits on the other side of the bench these days. Recently, she also sat down with CFO deputy editor Lori Calabro to discuss her hopes for the model law and for bankruptcy reform. As for bankruptcies themselves, Brozman sees no end in sight: “We will continue to see a very busy docket in the bankruptcy courts for probably the next two years.”

We’re in the seventh year of bankruptcy-reform legislation. How optimistic are you that it will pass this year?

There’s a better chance this year because of the composition of Congress. But there’s also a great deal of sensitivity to bankruptcy issues as a result of some of the very large cases that have filed recently, and what their implications might be.

After so many years, you must be incredibly frustrated.

I wouldn’t put myself in a camp with someone who is advocating a complete overhaul of the bankruptcy laws. I am mostly frustrated that the new Chapter 15 in the law — the embodiment of the UNCITRAL model on cross-border insolvency — has been essentially held hostage to the bankruptcy-reform legislation even though it is widely recognized as valuable.

Do you have any problem with the latest version of the bill?

Some of the provisions with respect to consumers are draconian. And on the business side, I’m not in favor of some of the legislative limitations on judicial discretion. Judges should be given the discretion to adjudicate when, for example, extensions of various time deadlines in the code [are requested]. It is next to impossible to impose a one-size-fits-all scheme on widely different types of companies that may be undergoing rehabilitation.

One provision in the proposed law allows a company’s investment bank to serve as its bankruptcy adviser even if it underwrote the company’s securities. Wouldn’t this be a potential conflict of interest?

[Currently] there is an automatic disqualification under the disinterestedness standard if an investment bank has been an underwriter of securities in the past two years…. The disqualification does not relate to [debtor-in-possession] financing, but to representation of the debtor. I believe that disqualification is sufficient as written [and] should not be eliminated, as is being considered.

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