The media room at the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit was crowded Wednesday as Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes heard arguments about whether the city may treat its unlimited-tax, general obligation bonds as unsecured during the bankruptcy process. At issues is hundreds of millions of dollars the city could use for services for residents instead of paying interest to bond financiers, to put it simply. But wiping away the debt, if that occurs, would send shockwaves through the $4 trillion municipal bond market.
During the nearly six hours of testimony, six attorneys for the bond insurers argued Michigan law dictates that funds raised from voter-approved bonds should be considered something of a “lien” and used only to pay off debt service for the bonds. Detroit’s attorneys, from the Jones Day law firm, argued federal bankruptcy law prescribes the funds are unsecured and that the bond issuers are like any other creditor.
Judge Rhodes, who said he would have a decision within two or three weeks, ended the day by urging continued mediation. “A decision here is most likely all or nothing,” he said. “One side is going to win and the other side is going to lose.”
Before the hearing, city attorneys told Judge Rhodes they had reached a deal with two global banks UBS and Bank of America Merrill Lynch for a “swaps settlement” on debt from pension funding. Rhodes has twice rejected previous deals, calling them too generous for the banks. City attorneys said they submit details to the court within three or four days.
The Detroit Free Press’s Nathan Bomey published this article, which is a comprehensive update of where bankruptcy dealings are to date.
And here are various other articles and stories published and broadcast about the day in court.
From The Bond Buyer: Detroit judge hears challenge to ULTGO treatment
From The Detroit News: Judge expects to rule on bondholder payments in a few weeks, urges negotiations