Very Nice Profile of Kathy Campbell, Clerk of the Court

This was written by Corey Weber and published by the Insolvency Law Committee of the California State Bar

August 15, 2017 

The following is a profile of Kathleen J. (Kathy) Campbell, Executive Officer/Clerk of Court for the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California (the “bankruptcy court”).  Ms. Campbell met members of the Insolvency Law Committee in her Roybal Courthouse office and discussed her personal and professional background, the bankruptcy court’s operations and pending issues and observations.

Ms. Campbell was appointed to her current bankruptcy court position in 2010. The Central District of California is home to the largest bankruptcy court in the country, with divisions located in Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Ana, San Fernando Valley and Santa Barbara.

Personal Background

Ms. Campbell graduated cum laude from the University of California at Santa Barbara, where she was a Law and Society major. She worked at the police department on campus during college as a Community Services Officer and considered a career in law enforcement. Ms. Campbell’s plans changed when, in her senior year, representatives of the University of Southern California visited campus to recruit for their Judicial Administration Program. The Judicial Administration Program combined classes in the law school with classes in the School of Public Administration. The goal of the program was to produce trained professional managers to administer the courts, and Ms. Campbell commented that the program offered a great combination of classes aligned with her interests. Ms. Campbell was accepted to the program, and she went on receive a graduate degree in judicial administration from the University of Southern California. Ms. Campbell loves college football and remains a devoted Trojan fan. Her youngest son is a Bruins fan, having graduated from UCLA, creating an ongoing football rivalry in the family.

Upon graduation from USC, in 1980 Ms. Campbell went to work for the bankruptcy court as a management analyst. She reflects that “this was a dynamic time because bankruptcy courts were just breaking off from district courts and forming their own clerks’ offices with independent staffs.” When she started with the bankruptcy court, she did not realize that it would end up being her life’s work. The majority of Ms. Campbell’s career has been devoted to serving the bankruptcy community. She has held a variety of positions during her 21 year tenure, including a five-year stint as Chief Deputy to the Clerk of Court. Ms. Campbell left the court several times over the years as family needs dictated. She spent time at home when her two sons were young, and also worked in management positions at the Ventura County Superior Court and the City of Santa Paula, in order to work closer to home and take care of her family. In 2010, with her sons off to college, she returned to accept the position of Executive Officer/Clerk of Court, leaving her position as Human Resources Manager in the City of Santa Paula. Ms. Campbell states that the various positions she held and roles she fulfilled in the past, as well as some excellent mentors along the way, have all prepared her for her current position.

The Clerk of Court

Ms. Campbell is responsible for 176 court employees who support the work of the District’s 24 authorized bankruptcy judges. The Central District of California contains a population of over 19.4 million persons, amounting to nearly 50% of the State’s population. The district’s bankruptcy court is governed by an Executive Committee currently comprised of a total of seven judges, chaired by Chief Judge Sheri Bluebond. Eight other committees comprised of judges support the work of the court, including the Alternative Dispute, Case Management, Community Outreach, and Rules Committees, among others. Ms. Campbell “serves at the pleasure of the court” and reports directly to Chief Judge Bluebond.

In addition to the Central District committees, Ms. Campbell also serves on the Ninth Circuit’s Courts and Community Committee, which is charged with the federal courts’ outreach to the communities they serve. For example, the committee organizes a yearly civics contest where high school students submit videos and essays about important current issues. The winner of the Central District contest gets to compete against other high school students from other Ninth Circuit districts. Last year the winner from the Central District went on to win the Ninth Circuit contest and accepted the award from United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy at the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference. This year the Central District had more Civics Contest submissions than any other district in the Ninth Circuit, and the winners from the Central District contest attended the Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference in San Francisco.

Ms. Campbell also serves on a circuit ad hoc committee on shared services which is examining ways for courts to contain costs and work together to share limited staff resources. She has also been active on a national staffing formula steering group for the last year-and-a-half, charged with measuring Clerk’s Office work and developing a new formula to determine appropriate bankruptcy clerks’ office staffing levels. She has also served on a number of national committees over the last few years, including the Bankruptcy Clerks Advisory Group, the Human Resources Advisory Council and the Electronic Public Access Working Group. Ms. Campbell was just appointed to the Ninth Circuit Space and Security Committee.

Roybal Courthouse Construction and New Courtroom Technology

Attorneys appearing at the Roybal Courthouse may not have noticed yet, but construction is in progress on some of the upper floors currently housing the Clerk of Court’s office, as well as operations and administrative staff. The 10th floor has been vacated and is being remodeled, and the 9th floor will be vacated and remodeled next. It is anticipated that by the end of 2017, the bankruptcy court will permanently vacate the 12th and 14th floors, with the district court and pretrial services office taking over the spaces. The bankruptcy court’s courtrooms will remain on the 13th, 15th and 16th floors. The lobby space will be modified to include side-by-side intake departments for the district court, bankruptcy court and pro se functions. It is part of what is known as “the Roybal Realignment.” The Roybal Realignment allows the bankruptcy court to reduce the amount of space it uses, and results in the reduction of ongoing rent expense by the bankruptcy court. The release of space is part of a national effort to reduce the amount of funds the judiciary spends on rent. It also creates the space necessary for magistrate judges and support staff, as well as Pre-Trial Services, to move to the Roybal Courthouse.

Construction is slated to continue in Roybal for another year-and-a–half. District Judges have now moved from both the Roybal and Spring Street Courthouses into the new federal courthouse on 1st Street, and ultimately all magistrate judges will join the bankruptcy judges in the Roybal Courthouse.

One of the exciting changes coming to the Roybal Courthouse is a technology upgrade. Ms. Campbell stated that, “we have the budget, as part of the Roybal Realignment Project, to upgrade seven courtrooms in the Central District with new technology. We are adding the infrastructure and plan to equip courtrooms with new audio, video evidence, and video conferencing systems. Chief Judge Bluebond’s courtroom will be the pilot courtroom to be outfitted with the new technology.”

Level of Bankruptcy Filings, Open Judgeships and Temporary Judgeships

The number of bankruptcies filed in the Central District has been going down in recent years, but weekly statistics show that the downward trend is beginning to flatten out. As bankruptcy filings eventually begin to increase nationwide, Ms. Campbell noted that historically filings in the Central District tend to exceed the national average during both upturns and downturns. She reflects that she “has no reason to think this would not be the case in the future” and that she and her staff are “accustomed to managing the volatility of case filings in the Central District.”

There are currently twenty-four authorized bankruptcy judgeships in the Central District: 21 permanent and 3 temporary. The three temporary judgeships were authorized due to high filing levels after the passage of BAPCPA, with a lapse date of May 25, 2017. According to the statutory language that created these judgeships, the next three judicial vacancies of any kind arising in the Central District after the lapse date of May 25, 2017, cannot be filled in order to reduce the total number of judges to 21, the number of permanent authorized judgeships.

Ms. Campbell explains that the Circuit relies on a formula for annual weighted case hours to determine when a permanent bankruptcy judge position can be filled. “We need 1,000 weighted hours per judgeship (minus one) to fill a position. “Currently the weighted average in our District is slightly under 700 hours. We’ll need about 25,000 more annual bankruptcy filings to bring the average number of weighted judicial hours back to 1,000.” The “weighted hours” are calculated based on a formula utilized nationwide. Judges Thomas Donovan and Richard Neiter retired from their positions prior to the lapse date of May 25, 2017, which allows the court to fill their judgeships, once filings pick back up.

The bankruptcy court has sufficient funds to maintain staffing levels for the current year. After that, things are uncertain. Funding levels for the Judiciary depend on the U.S. Congress, and can sometimes be unpredictable. The Central District is therefore conservative in its spending decisions. To protect the staff from layoffs in the event bankruptcy filings remain low, the court offers early retirements and buyouts to staff members, and participates in national projects and shared services initiatives to bring in supplemental funding. Ms. Campbell is transparent with staff about budget concerns and likely future staffing levels and admires the resilience of the staff to continue to provide outstanding service despite such uncertainty.

Dedication to Improving Processes and Implementing New Technology

Technology has been key to maintaining the court’s services in the face of budget cuts. “If we have too much work in one division, our automated systems allow us to move work to another division to assist.” We have automated a number of our work processes, including discharges and case closings, as well as docketing events. The use of technology is critical to our fulfillment of the court’s mission. We always strive to work smarter and manage with the limited resources we have.”

The role of new technology will continue to expand. In what will be a helpful development for attorneys in the Central District, Ms. Campbell said that, “we plan to add audio recordings of hearings on case dockets. The centralized servers now have enough space so that judges can designate audio from hearings that would be of interest to lawyers.” The inclusion of audio on the CMF/ECF dockets should happen sometime in the coming year.

Also, the Court plans to convert to the NextGen CM/ECF. The system is currently being tested in pilot courts throughout the country and once the bankruptcy court is assured system performance is stable, the Central District will move forward. When asked about the functions of the NextGen system, Ms. Campbell comments that it “will allow a centralized sign-on where attorneys can access CM/ECF for all federal courts with one login and password, and there will be new ways for judges to manage cases and calendaring.”

The Central District currently offers the Electronic Self Representation (eSR) program for pro se debtors to prepare bankruptcy petitions. eSR was developed in a collaborative effort by the Central District of California, the Districts of New Jersey and New Mexico, and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Court staff are also working with systems staff at the national level to develop a NextGen compatible version of eSR. Ms. Campbell commented that the court first and foremost encourages debtors to obtain the services of a qualified attorney. For those unable to afford an attorney, the court refers pro se debtors to the pro bono self-help desks in each division. Volunteer attorneys are familiar with the software and can review the eSR petition with the pro se debtor. “eSR is a good alternative to reliance on bankruptcy petition preparers and can help to reduce fraud issues that arise from inadequate assistance provided by unscrupulous preparers.” Ms. Campbell noted that Judge Maureen Tighe has been a champion of the eSR program, devoting countless hours to assist in its development, along with the hard work of Court staff.

Observations

When asked about what tips she has for attorneys, Ms. Campbell notes that “attorneys should avoid common e-filing mistakes— verify that uploaded pdf’s are correct, redact personal identifiers, select the correct event code and, if it isn’t correct, notify the court as soon as possible. And don’t alter mandatory language in official forms. If you amend something, state what is being amended. The court has an online chat and call center and attorneys or their staffs should reach out and chat or call with questions. We’re here to help.”

If attorneys have suggestions regarding the local rules, a bankruptcy form or the Court Manual, they should use the “Proposing Revisions” form on the court’s website located under the Rules and Procedures tab. These suggestions are forwarded to the bankruptcy court’s Rules or Case Management Committees for consideration. In addition, Ms. Campbell mentions that, “we’re always looking for attorneys to help with community outreach and civic events and welcome their energy and expertise.” Attorneys interested in getting involved with the bankruptcy court and with community outreach should contact the Office of the Clerk of Court. She adds that, “the pro bono self-help desks in all five divisions are also always looking for volunteers.” A link to contacts at each location is found on the bankruptcy court’s Homepage under Pro Bono Opportunities.

Relationships with Judges and Staff

The judges and staff mean a lot to Ms. Campbell. She comments that, “the most rewarding part of the job is that it’s always evolving—there’s a new case or a combination of things that you don’t anticipate. I always look forward to coming to work. I really enjoy working with the judges. They’re smart, intellectually challenging and pose good questions. You have to be on your ‘A game.’ The judges are also fun, each with his or her unique personality traits.”

When asked about the working environment at the bankruptcy court, Ms. Campbell states, “I want people who work here to look forward to coming to work. That means creating a culture where people are treated with dignity and respect. We take pride in our work and do what we say we’re going to do. I hold myself accountable to the highest ethical standards and expect the same of the staff. I have a wonderful staff and we do our best to recognize and reward them for doing a great job.”

Ms. Campbell is proud of the services the bankruptcy court provides. “What we do helps people get their lives back on track.”

 

This article was written by Corey R. Weber ( cweber@bg.law ), a partner at Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP, a member of the California State Bar’s Business Law Section Executive Committee and immediate past Co-Chair of the Insolvency Law Committee (ILC), and Uzzi O. Raanan, a partner at Danning Gill Diamond & Kollitz LLP, Vice Chair of the California State Bar’s Business Law Section and past Co-Chair of the ILC ( URaanan@dgdk.com ). 
 

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