Bankruptcy Judgeship Bill Passed In Congress

By Andy Meek

Congress has passed a bill that will allow a bankruptcy judgeship in Jackson, Tenn., to be filled after the retirement this summer of U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge G. Harvey Boswell.

Though Boswell handles cases in Jackson, his court is part of the same judicial district that includes the bankruptcy courtrooms of Memphis. And until Congress passed what had been a stalled bankruptcy judgeship bill, it appeared Boswell’s position would lapse and not get filled after his retirement, effective July 8.

That would have meant rather than the current five bankruptcy judges splitting the caseload for West Tennessee, with four judges now presiding in Memphis in addition to Boswell in Jackson, the work would presumably have had to be split somehow among the four remaining judges in Memphis after Boswell’s departure.

Lack of congressional action on the bill to fund the judgeships also would have meant the country would lose almost one-tenth of its current 351 bankruptcy judges.

“With vacancies beginning to result in a loss of temporary bankruptcy judgeships, the need for Congress to act on the extension legislation had become urgent,” reads a memo circulated among federal judges within the last few days. “We are pleased that these important judicial resources now will be secure for the near future.”

Congress’ passage of the “Temporary Bankruptcy Judgeship Extension Act of 2012” extends 29 temporary bankruptcy judgeships for five years, including the position in the Western District of Tennessee. President Barack Obama had not signed the bill at press time, but he is expected to do so soon.

“It was dearly needed, and, of course, it prevents the lapsing of the judgeship in our Eastern Division (of the Western District) at Jackson,” said David Kennedy, chief bankruptcy judge for West Tennessee. “We indeed are thankful.”

Kennedy said some of the judges here likely would have made the trip to Jackson to hear cases, instead of asking the debtors there – already hard-pressed for cash and who would be spending money on gas for the hour ride here – to come to Memphis.

Kennedy also tipped his hat to Boswell, who in addition to leaving his trial judgeship also will no longer sit on the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I think Judge Boswell has been an outstanding bankruptcy judge,” Kennedy said. “He has served the Western District of Tennessee well. He’s been a dedicated public servant, and he will be dearly missed.”

One of the four remaining bankruptcy judges in Memphis, George Emerson Jr., was recently appointed to succeed Boswell on the Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel. Emerson will continue to serve as a trial bankruptcy judge here, in addition to reviewing decisions of bankruptcy judges from other judicial districts in the Sixth Circuit as a member of the panel.