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Neal Batson of Atlanta law firm Alston & Bird was nominated Wednesday to be an independent examiner with expanded powers in Enron Corp.’s bankruptcy proceedings, ending the U.S. Trustee’s office’s long and arduous search for a conflict-free candidate for the role. “He has extensive experience as a mediator and as a lawyer, and I think he’s one of the top bankruptcy lawyers in the country,” said Ron Martin of Denver-based Holland & Hart, who is also vice president of the American College of Bankruptcy in Washington. “He has a Southern drawl and a rural wisdom about himself, and I was impressed by him when we worked together when he was debtor counsel at Cajun Electric Power Cooperative Inc. when it was the biggest Chapter 11 filing before Enron.” Carolyn Schwartz, head of the U.S. Trustee’s New York office, formally submitted Batson’s name to Judge Arthur Gonzalez in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. Gonzalez is expected to approve the appointment at noon today if no objections are filed before a deadline set for 30 minutes earlier. Several hundred interested parties in the case were slated to be notified of Batson’s nomination late Wednesday by e-mail. If any of them do file an objection, Gonzalez has pledged to hold an immediate hearing. Batson, who has an extensive bankruptcy background and is a former chairman and past president of the American College of Bankruptcy, couldn’t be reached for comment. Indeed, Batson’s credentials appear to be deep. He was president of the Atlanta Bar Association in 1979-80 and was a director of the American Bankruptcy Institute, according to a r�sum� sent to interested parties by the U.S. Trustee. He was also a former panel member of the Registrar of Mediators for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan. “Concentrates in bankruptcy, commercial litigation, creditors’ rights, workouts, business reorganizations and corporate restructuring,” Batson’s r�sum� reads. “Serves as alternative dispute resolution neutral in mediation, arbitration and case evaluation.” Batson was editor-in-chief of the Vanderbilt University Law Review. He got his J.D. from Vanderbilt in 1966, clerked for Judge Griffin Bell of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and was trained in mediation and arbitration by the American Arbitration Association and Resolution Resources Corp., the r�sum� reads. The candidate has been a bankruptcy court-appointed examiner before. He assumed that role in the Chapter 11 case of real estate and financial services firm Southmark Corp. He was also debtor counsel for disposable diaper maker Paragon Trade Brands and for Great American Management and Investment, the nation’s third-largest real estate investment trust at the time, in 1977. “I worked with him several years ago and found him to be a very good lawyer who knows bankruptcy and is also a very fair guy,” said an attorney who asked not to be identified. The examiner is authorized to have subpoena power, the right to take depositions, the ability to waive the attorney-client privilege and possibly even prosecutorial authority if Gonzalez deemed it necessary. The examiner is slated to meet with Gonzalez 120 days into his appointment to see if those powers should be expanded into the prosecutorial realm. The move for an independent examiner picked up considerable strength six weeks ago when the Securities and Exchange Commission joined with individual creditors to ask Gonzalez to approve an examiner with expanded investigatory powers. Several disgruntled creditors had expressed mounting concerns that creditors committee counsel Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy of New York had a potential conflict-of-interest in Enron and needed outside counsel to investigate the debtor’s complex special-purpose entities. Schwartz had clearly struggled to come up with a relatively conflict-free appointee due to the extensive tentacles that Enron had spread, and Gonzalez was testy last week when he asked Schwartz during a hearing to submit an appointee by May 17. Gonzalez maintained in court May 15 that the appointment process had been dragging on for too long. The trustee was initially expected to appoint an examiner in early April but acknowledged in court last week that she was running into problems finding a candidate without links to Enron’s filing. “I know [Schwartz] has met with a lot of people, and I know she wants to avoid motions in the future based on conflicts going forward,” said a creditors counsel actively involved in Enron’s Chapter 11 filing. Schwartz didn’t return phone calls. Copyright (c)2002 TDD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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