Wednesday, August 21, 2013

No Constitutional Right to Counsel for Chapter 7 Debtor

In the case of In re Eagle, ___ F.3d ___, 2007 WL 2278902 (C.A.8(Ark.)), the court held that under the circumstances the Chapter 7 Debtor did not have a constitutional right to counsel. The Debtor had filed a pro se Chapter 7 case. As the Debtor failed to file the necessary schedules and statements, the court dismissed his case. The court granted the Debtor's motion to reinstate his case and advised the Debtor to obtain counsel. In subsequent proceedings, the court sustained a Creditor's exemption objection. The Debtor appealed the order sustaining the exemption objection.

The Court of Appeals held that the Debtor did not have a right to counsel as his physical liberty was not at issue in the bankruptcy case. Lassiter v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of Furham County, 452 U.S. 18 (1981). The court further noted that although it had no duty to do so, the court had advised the Debtor to obtain counsel.

The issue to use bankrutpcy estate funds to employ criminal counsel in a bankruptcy case was previously addressed in the Miami, Florida bankruptcy case of In re Duque, 48 B.R. 965 (DC Fla. 1984)(Hastings, J.). In this case involving an individual chapter 11 debtor, the District Court held that the Debtor did not under the circumstances have the right to use bankruptcy estate money to pay for his criminal counsel. The court set forth three underlying principles in its determination. First, the employment of special criminal counsel must be in the best interest of the estate. That is, there must be an actual need for the services based upon a actual not hypothetical or speculative threat to the estate or its property. Second, special criminal counsel must not be for the personal benefit of the debtor, but must be for the benefit of protecting the assets of the estate or furthering its interests. Third, potential violations of the debtor's constituational rights posed by criminal investigations or prosecutions occurring after the filing are of concern to the criminal forum and not the bankruptcy court.