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Isle bankruptcies hit 4-year high


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POSTED: Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hawaii bankruptcy filings in September soared to their highest monthly level in nearly four years.

The tally of 282 was the most since 1,463 were filed in October 2005, when state residents rushed to file ahead of a new federal bankruptcy law that made it more difficult and costly to file, according to preliminary data from U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

With nearly 2,300 cases filed so far this year, the state could see 3,000 bankruptcies by the end of 2009, said bankruptcy attorney Blake Goodman.

“;Even though it sounds like we're falling off the economic map,”; we are not, he said, noting that as many as 4,000 to 5,000 cases were filed each year in the late 1990s.

One positive sign Goodman sees is fewer business filings. “;It seems like restaurants and retail businesses are not coming through my doors this summer as much as they were earlier in the year,”; he said.

;  Positive signs are few and far between, however.

Anecdotal information collected during the month indicated that bankruptcy attorneys were as busy as ever, said David Farmer, Chapter 7 panel trustee for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Hawaii and a bankruptcy attorney.

Farmer's “;darker prediction”; is that bankruptcy filings will remain high through 2010.

He sees potential for a “;double bounce”; wherein Hawaii's economy may hit bottom in the coming months followed by a slight improvement, and then another bottom will be realized, he said. Rises in bankruptcy filings likely will reflect economic lows.

Both attorneys cited concerns about state employee layoffs and furloughs, noting the crucial nature of the consumer-spending piece of the larger economic picture.

“;People have less money — it's a self-fulfilling spiral. The only people that are gaining from this are the sickos like myself who work in bankruptcy,”; Farmer said with a chuckle.

“;It's good, but I would much rather the economy ... pick up.”;

Farmer sees “;the human face of the misery week after week”; in bankruptcy court.

The state is “;in bad shape and getting worse,”; he said.

“;I've lived and worked in Hawaii since 1967 — I've just never have seen it so bad for such an extended period of time,”; he said.