Bankruptcy Petition Preparers are strenuously regulated by the Trustees and for good reason - consumer protection. Legal Document Assistants and Paralegals suffer risk as BPPs due to the nature of their experience and alternate use of titles. The code was written to protect consumers from non-attorneys who could be construed as sharing their "legal knowledge" which is unlawful. Non-attorneys do not have adequate education or credentials to provide legal advice.
A motion pursuant to 11 U.S.C. 110 was brought by a Trustee against me, personally, and my legal document assistant and paralegal service, Catalyst Legal, concerning the use of the term "legal" as a component of my business name. The Trustee claimed that a business name is a form of advertisement and that Catalyst Legal sold bankruptcy petition preparation services in violation of the statute which sets forth at (f) "A bankruptcy petition preparer shall not use the word "legal" or any similar term in any advertisements, or advertise under any category that includes the word "legal" or any similar term."
What the Trustee refused to acknowledge is that I also own and operate Catalyst Bankruptcy, a debt relief agency, a completely separate business entity.
Today was the scheduled motion date. I thought about retaining counsel, but then realized that I really couldn't afford to hire an attorney. Two attorney friends offered to help, but one wanted me to pay for his travel and the other would have had to lose a day at her "other job" and I did not want for her to take time off just to speak on my behalf. An internet review of past BPP/Trustee cases with circumstances seemingly similar to mine which were heard with "benefit" of legal counsel proved that many of these cases were lost by the BPP with an additional waiver of personal civil rights. I figured I could do as poorly as the so-called "defense" attorneys in this type of case. So I decided to appear pro se'.
Last night I could not sleep and I absolutely had to be at the airport by 5 a.m. After shuttling to the rent-a-car lot and navigating my way to and through downtown Los Angeles in my little economy car, I finally found parking and I made my extremely tired way to the courtroom. It was packed with people - standing room only. Somebody said there were 68 cases to be heard! Since I was late, I figured that I would trail to the end of the calendar. This pleased me as this "Nervous Nellie," afraid to speak in front of a packed courtroom.
My case was the 8th or 9th case called and I introduced myself and wished the Judge "Good morning your Honor."
The Judge began to speak stating that he was inclined to deny the Trustee's motion inasmuch as the evidence and statements in my opposition proved that Catalyst Legal and Catalyst Bankruptcy were two separate and distinct business entities. The attorney for the Trustee argued his points and the Judge spoke again, reiterating the contents of my opposition and his agreement therewith. At one point I attempted to speak and the Judge directed me to wait for my turn. My response: "Yes sir."
The Judge and attorney argued back and forth while I listened. I realized that opening my big mouth could result in my saying something that could be deemed an admission or detrimental to my position. After all, this type of court hearing is not something for which I have expertise. I did manage to sit still and maintain a straight face. I so just wanted to grin and clap my hands and perhaps do a little jig as I listened to the Judge. It was obvious that he did not view the facts or the law through the same lens as the attorney. The Judge agreed with my position that Catalyst Legal and Catalyst Bankruptcy are two distinctly separate business entities and therefore, no violation existed. The Judge stated that he did not think that any other individual could go to any further lengths to maintain a petition preparation service separate from a legal document preparation service. He said that it was clear that I put a lot of work into maintaining the two businesses as separate and distinct entities.
The Judge then ruled "Motion Denied." I smiled and stood up saying "Thank you your Honor" and I was out of there in a flash.
All in all I believe I learned that I do way better on paper and by keeping my big mouth shut than I do trying to impress others with "my great oratory skills" and, that when the Judge is arguing your case 100% to your benefit you should absolutely NOT interrupt. I also came away from today's hearing fully believing that I should never be afraid to stand up for what I believe is right.
After the hearing I spoke to the attorney explaining that if he had any further issues with my business practices or model that I would like to be informed. He did say that the telephone number for Catalyst Legal is the same phone number for Catalyst Bankruptcy. He had argued this point with the Judge but the Judge said that phone numbers and addresses do not matter as they are not a form of advertising and they are not the business name. I responded to the attorney that Just Believe!, BFP Cruises, BFP Events, Katalicious, Adult Store to Your Door, and Missionary Legal all utilize the same number as Catalyst Legal and Catalyst Bankruptcy - but that I would obtain a new number for Catalyst Bankruptcy today. And I did.
Sometimes you have to throw them a bone.