As part of the bankruptcy trial, Judge Steven Rhodes is including a handful of individual objectors – people who don’t have attorneys – called “pro se” objectors.
One of them already questioned Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and then testified herself. But most of them are expected to begin testifying Wednesday and will cover a variety of topics including: the “clawback” of the annuity savings fund; the voting procedure by various creditor classes (including pensioners) on the Plan of Adjustment; interest rates being used to calculate investment returns.
Last summer, Rhodes invited 80 individuals to testify about their objections. Here’s a report of that day in court. Some of those are returning during the trial phase. We spoke with Gloria Williams and Steven Wojtowicz in advance of their testimony about their objections and what they’re expecting in court.
We also interviewed Laura Bartell, professor of law at Wayne State University, about the inclusion of these individuals in the bankruptcy proceeding. She says it’s “not normal.”
Here’s a transcript of that conversation:
Sandra Svoboda: Why is the judge including these pro se objectors in the trial?
Laura Bartell: An objector doesn’t lose the right to object merely because he or she does not have counsel. So if an objector has something relevant to bring before the court, the objector should have an opportunity to stand up in court and make his or her point.
SS: What role do these objectors play in the bankruptcy trial?
LB: These particular objectors do not have any dramatic points to make. Most of them are asking for an opportunity to question witnesses about the treatment of their pension claims, about the clawbacks, that sort of thing. We’ve already had one pro se litigant cross examine one of the city’s witnesses on feasibility but they have minor issues about whether the plan is fair and equitable, whether it’s feasible and the judge is going to allow them to question witnesses or present witnesses as they wish to make their points on those issues.
SS: Is this a normal part of bankruptcy procedure?
LB: It’s not normal to have pro se objectors. It’s only an unusual situation where you would have individuals not represented by counsel who were objecting to a plan either in Chapter 9 or in Chapter 11.
SS: Does Judge Rhodes allowing these objectors shed any insight into his thoughts and his handling of this bankruptcy case?
LB: This is consistent with his solicitude for the individuals who are being affected by the bankruptcy case. He wants to give them every opportunity to make their points publicly because part of that is an emotional resolution. If you can have the sense that you have made your point, it has been heard by the authority figure, that is Judge Rhodes, then even if he overrules your objection you at least feel you’ve gotten a fair shake.