Advisers working on the Dewey & LeBoeuf bankruptcy endured a round of criticism Thursday from the judge overseeing the defunct firm’s Chapter 11 case, who expressed qualms over what he considered excessive fees and expenses billed to the cash-strapped estate.
Taxi rides around New York, pricey hotel stays, and vague time entries all got cut as U.S. bankruptcy court judge Martin Glenn approved preliminary fee requests from a dozen law firms, accounting shops, and other advisory outfits. In total, $14.1 million in bills have been submitted for time spent working on the bankruptcy from its inception in late May through the end of October, according to our past reports.
Even those advisers that received Glenn’s preliminary approval won’t be fully paid any time soon; firms can only receive what was allocated months ago in a budget set by lead lender JPMorgan Chase, and the few firms that didn’t go over budget can only get 80 percent for now.
Glenn expressed doubts that the firms—which include lead bankruptcy counsel Togut, Segal & Segal; creditors counsel Brown Rudnick; former partners committee counsel Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman; financial advisers Deloitte and Ernst & Young; and others—will ever be fully paid, even if the estate’s pending Chapter 11 plan is approved. “This case has been on the edge of administrative insolvency since the time it was filed,” he said during the hearing, held in lower Manhattan bankruptcy court.
Development Specialists Inc., a restructuring firm that Dewey brought in before its collapse and continued to use in a limited capacity since filing for bankruptcy, received several complaints from Glenn for its $248,860 in fees and expenses. Glenn took issue with $17,560 in costs associated with DSI’s preparation of fee applications, an amount Glenn said far exceeds his benchmark that fee applications shouldn’t cost more than between 3 percent and 5 percent of the total bill.
“The issue is what’s overhead and what’s compensable?” Glenn asked, ultimately deciding to reduce that section of the fee request by $4,400.
DSI’s filing also raised the issue of whether advisers can charge for hotel stays in New York when the case is based there, even if the advisers are from out of town, something Glenn said he may consider banning in future cases. (At the request of the U.S. trustee’s office, DSI president William Brandt said in court that they wrote off hotel stays costing more than $550 per night and corporate apartment stays costing $400 per night). All told, DSI had $4,455 shaved off its fees and $9,175 off its expenses in addition to the amount Glenn axed during the hearing.
Lead bankruptcy lawyer Al Togut‘s firm also took a cut on its considerably larger bill of $4.7 million. The firm agreed to $57,139 in fee cuts and $1,378 in expense cuts after consultation with the U.S. trustee’s office, which had objections to several of the fee requests.
Togut, Segal & Segal’s bill raised Glenn’s ire in part for what he deemed excessively vague entries—most related to time spent on the case by Togut, who was not in court Thursday—and also for a page of expenses related to car rides.
“I don’t reimburse for taxi and car services around Manhattan,” Glenn pointedly said. “Take the subway. Take the bus. Better yet, have your firm pick up that cost.”
Overall, few of the fee requests escaped at least some criticism, though Glenn ultimately approved most of them on an interim basis.
Earlier in the hearing, Glenn questioned the Dewey estate’s motives in trying to change the forum of a proposed class action brought on behalf of 550 former Dewey employees who claim the firm failed to adequately warn of mass layoffs. Dewey has urged the court to move the case, filed in early May by New York law firm Outten & Golden, from a separate adversary proceeding to a class claim filed as part of the bankruptcy’s regular claims process.
Several rounds of back and forth between Togut associate Jonathan Ibsen and Glenn did little to persuade the judge, who, while not ruling from the bench, said “Why the fuss in doing this as an adversary proceeding? In some ways this seems like much ado about nothing.”
Glenn requested more information on how the judge overseeing the Howrey bankruptcy is handling similar employee litigation. In that case, proceeding in San Francisco, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali recently certified a class of former employees suing Howrey under federal and state laws related to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.