We do need reform. We are operating very much in a "creditor beware" society that makes it difficult to lend money. The credit has to be more gilt-edged than otherwise would be the case because of the delays and horror stories that come out of the bankruptcy system. There is a particular need to deal with the delays that are more form than substance, the delays just for the sake of delay while the collateral position deteriorates. The delays don't usually mean the lender does things differently, only 600 days later. And they don't really do much for borrowers. In 20 years, I have not seen a case where they have been helped.
A lot of abuse and even outright fraud is taking place under the bankruptcy laws now. The bankruptcy courts are very debtor-oriented and sometimes assign unrealistically low values to automobiles and consumer goods. It is hard for creditors to get a fair hearing. Some reforms to level the playing field are certainly going to be welcome if they happen.
The pendulum has swung too far in the direction of protecting debtors' rights. We have faced much delay and abuse with a lot of difficulty in [collecting on] our collateral, especially in reorganization situations under Chapter 13. We are involved in one Chapter 13 case that has been running now for seven years. We would welcome the proposed changes.
We haven't seen fraud under the current laws, but delays we have certainly experienced. In one situation, we were the senior lienholder and could have foreclosed with no loss if the bankruptcy court had allowed, but we ended up giving up some interest in a process that took over a year. I am not at all convinced that the current situation under the bankruptcy law even benefits borrowers. Too often, it is the attorneys and referees who are really the winners.
* William G. Smith Jr. President and chief executive officer Capital City First National Bank, Tallahassee, Fla.
* John Shivers Chairman and president Southwest Bank, Fort Worth, Tex.
* William R. Docking President Union State Bank, Arkansas City, Kan.
* John F. Hamel Jr. President First Northern Bank, Dixon, Calif.