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New Court Opens to Handle Region’s Surge in Bankruptcies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Responding to a surge in bankruptcy filings, U. S. Bankruptcy Court officials are opening a new office in Santa Barbara that is expected to handle cases from west Ventura County.

The new office, part of the U. S. Bankruptcy Court’s Central District based in Los Angeles, will open June 29 at 222 E. Carrillo St.

Bankruptcy Judge Robin L. Riblet of Los Angeles will preside over the court division, which is expected to handle cases from the western portion of Ventura County and all of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

Eventually, the court may open a division in Ventura.

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“It’s a possibility,” said Bankruptcy Court spokeswoman Wendy Webster. “They have to assess the need.”

Webster said Bankruptcy Court officials are still debating what portions of Ventura County will be covered by the new Santa Barbara division. What is certain is that it is a popular idea whose time has come.

“It will be a tremendous help for all of us,” said bankruptcy attorney David Follin of Ventura. “It will cut down on the necessity of traveling to Los Angeles for court hearings, and access (to court records) will be much easier.”

The Central District is a vast territory that includes Ventura, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties.

There are several permanent satellite offices outside of the court’s headquarters in Los Angeles, but not in the three counties that will be served by the new division.

Judges Riblet and Kathleen P. March have been holding court sessions in Santa Barbara two weeks a month, but the massive paperwork generated by the caseload remained in Los Angeles. Now, it will stay in Santa Barbara.

“It’s certainly going to make the lines shorter at the filing windows in Los Angeles,” said Michael Joncich, an administrator for Don Henry, a court-appointed trustee who oversees a number of bankruptcy filings in Ventura County.

Filings have been rocketing upward as the deep-rooted recession continues to play havoc with the ledgers of large and small businesses along with the finances of individuals.

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Among the most common bankruptcies are those filed under Chapter 7, which is a straight liquidation with generally no payment on debts, and Chapter 11, which provides protection from creditors during a business reorganization.

According to the Central District’s records--which do not break out Ventura County separately--there were 78,663 bankruptcy filings in all categories in 1991, a 33% jump over the previous year. If filings during the first four months of this year continue at the current pace, 1992 will show an 18% increase over last year.

Cold figures, however, don’t begin to describe the toll on individuals who watch their life’s work and savings vanish, attorney Follin said.

“The recession has affected people from every walk of life,” he said. “Doctors, attorneys, certified public accountants, bank managers--the whole spectrum of life.

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“It’s a last resort. People go through anguish and soul-searching before filing for bankruptcy.”


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