The local bankruptcy court for Contra Costa County is the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, Oakland Division. It is located across the street from the big federal building in Oakland, at 1300 Clay Street. The courtrooms are on the second floor; the clerk’s office is on the third floor. This court oversees most personal bankruptcy filings for residents of Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, as well as bankruptcies for many businesses in both counties.
To appear in this court, as well as the San Francisco, San Jose, or Santa Rosa division bankruptcy courts, attorneys must be admitted to practice before the District Court for the Northern District of California or get permission to appear pro hac vice. I suggest traveling to the court via BART, as it is only a block from the 12th Street / City Center station. However, parking is available at several nearby parking structures for those willing to pay.
Changes in the Courthouse
With the downturn in the economy, our court was inundated with new filings. From 2010 through 2011, our three judge bench saw over 28,500 new cases – about double what they would normally see. This led to longer calendars and greater lag times between filing a motion and getting an order. However, with filings decreasing (Oakland filings are down by almost 1,000 from this time last year) things are getting back to normal.
That said, if you haven’t been to court in the past two years, you’ll notice a big change. All of the judges you knew have retired, and you’ll have to learn the rules and requirements of three new judges. To that end, here is a little information about our current bench.
Judge Roger L. Efremsky was appointed in 2006, serving in San Jose’s Bankruptcy Court. With the retirement of Judge Leslie Tchaikovsky, he was able to move up to Oakland in 2010. Prior to his appointment, Judge Efremsky was a partner with the AV rated law firm of Efremsky & Nagel representing corporate clients throughout California. He also served as advisory counsel to the Chapter 13 Standing Trustees for the Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Rosa divisions of the court. He is a former chairman of the National Association of Chapter Thirteen Trustees’ Creditor Auxiliary and has served on a number of professional committees at the State and local levels.
Judge Efremsky has also testified on behalf of representative national creditors before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts regarding the role of the U.S. Trustee system. Judge Efremsky received his B.S. from Menlo College in 1978 and his J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law in 1983. He was the recipient of a Rotary International Fellowship for the study of international law and politics at the University of Cape Town, Republic of South Africa.
Judge Efremsky is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education events. His words of wisdom to practitioners are to be prepared and courteous. “Being prepared for the hearing is paramount. That means counsel have a strong command of the facts and law at issue.” It also means attorneys should be on time to hearings. He also stresses the importance of being courteous to opposing counsel, as well as clients, trustees, and court personnel.
Judge William J. Lafferty III was appointed in 2011 after Chief Judge Randall Newsome left the bench to work for JAMS. Judge Lafferty attended UC Berkeley where he earned his B.A. and University of California Hastings College of the Law where he earned his J.D. Following law school, Judge Lafferty clerked for the Hon. Thomas E. Carlson, who is still serving as a bankruptcy judge, with chambers in San Francisco. Judge Lafferty worked for Howard, Rice, Nemerovski, Canady, Falk & Rabkin from 1987 until his appointment to the bench in 2011. Among many other accolades, he was recognized as a Northern California Super Lawyer from 2004 through 2010. He also served as President of the Bay Area Bankruptcy Forum and the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Commercial Law and Bankruptcy Section.
Personally, Judge Lafferty enjoys spending time with his wife and son, growing grapes, and playing with his dog, who wakes him up every morning. He echoes the advice of his fellow judges about being courteous and proofreading papers prior to filing. He also wanted to share a practice pointer that may be unique to his courtroom. Occasionally, after he has read the papers, he will have questions for the attorneys. He asks attorneys to please respond to those questions directly, rather than pointing back to their briefs. He asks the questions because he may be unclear about a single point you raised, and your direct response to his questions will speed things along.
Judge M. Elaine Hammond is the newest judge on our bench, having been appointed in February of 2012. She graduated with a B.A. from Duke University in 1992 and received her J.D. from the University of North Carolina School of Law in 1998. Following law school, she clerked for the Hon. Edward D. Jellen, who retired this year and whose seat she now occupies. Judge Hammond worked for the law firm of Murphy, Sheneman, Julian & Rogers until 2003, when she joined Friedman, Dumas & Springwater where she was a partner and focused her practice on Chapter 11 work, representing both debtors and creditors. She also represented a debtor in a rare Chapter 9 case. While in practice, she served on the State Bar’s Insolvency Law Committee. She also served on the Bench-Bar Liaison Committee for the Northern District of California’s Bankruptcy Court from 2011 until her appointment to the court.
Judge Hammond likes how bankruptcy touches on other areas of law and enjoys seeing the whole process of the case from initial meetings through discharge. While not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two children. She likes to garden, travel, ride a bicycle, and raise chickens.
Her words of advice to the Bar are practical. Put the code section and case law you are relying on in your motions. Re-read your papers prior to filing them to make sure they make sense. Know what you want the judge to do if you win. Finally, if you are having a discovery dispute that cannot be resolved after a meet and confer with opposing counsel, call her chambers. Judge Hammond would prefer to resolve the matter through a phone conference with both sides prior to any motions being filed.
More Court Procedures
Attorneys have been required to file documents electronically since 2005, and most of the documents filed in a case are immediately available through PACER. Infrequent filers are temporarily exempted from electronic filing, but should still get ECF training as quickly as possible. Free classes are held several times a month in Oakland and San Francisco.
All three of our judges use open calendaring for most hearings, and their courtroom deputies are available should you have difficulty locating the right calendar for your case. It is extremely important to meet and confer prior to your hearing. For example, attorneys (not staff) are required to talk via phone at least two weeks prior to a confirmation hearing and file a joint pre-hearing statement at least one week prior to the hearing, stating when they talked, what legal or factual issues remain, and how long the hearing will take. Failure to do so can lead to sanctions of $100 or more.
The court’s website is full of local guidelines, procedures and rules meant to help you. Please read them. From when and how you can appear by phone (in most cases, unless your client will be appearing in person) to when you need to provide chambers copies — it’s all there. Each judge even has his or her own procedures page meant to help you succeed in their court (from the main website, click judges in the top center, then select your judge on the left, then click procedures). You can find all this and more on the court’s website at www.canb.uscourts.gov. For Oakland specific procedures, please go to www.canb.uscourts.gov/procedures/oak.
As Judge Tchaikovsky once wrote – “Don’t substitute preparation with the opening statement: ‘I’m not a bankruptcy lawyer, but …’”
Corrine Bielejeski founded East Bay Bankruptcy Law in 2011, focusing on Chapter 7 and 13 debtor representation. She graduated with a B.A. from UC Santa Barbara in 2003 where she earned the University Service Award. She earned her J.D. from UC Davis in 2006, where she completed the Public Service Law program. She clerked for the Hon. Edward D. Jellen in the Oakland Bankruptcy Court, before entering private practice. She is a member of the Bankruptcy Court’s Bench-Bar Liaison Committee and invites the bar to contact her with any problems or suggestions that can be brought to the court’s attention. In her spare time, you can usually find her relaxing with a book, watching football, or hanging out with her husband and dog.