This post was updated 04/06/2020 10:50 a.m. to add a link to the list of 341 questions the debtor’s attorneys will ask.
In my previous post I discussed some general issues about using Zoom for section 341 meetings. This post will cover the procedures for scheduling, noticing, and conducting Zoom meetings.
We are in the process of re-noticing the section 341 meetings that will be conducted via Zoom. The docket text of the notice gives the date and time of the rescheduled meeting and indicates that the meeting will be conducted via video conference. The PDF document gives a little more information. The BNC is mailing the notice to the debtor and all creditors.
Note that there is no “location” for the meeting. This is not like the Court’s video hearings where the parties go to a courtroom and the hearing is conducted through the Court’s video system by a judge in another location. For these video 341 meetings, parties will stay at their homes or offices (or the McDonald’s parking lot where there is a wi-fi connection) and use the Zoom app on their own devices.
I am scheduling a separate Zoom meeting for each case. On most days, we have scheduled one meeting every 15 minutes. The “topic” of the meeting is the case number and debtor’s last name. The Zoom app/website generates a random Meeting ID number and a random Password for each meeting. (For the first round of rescheduled 341’s, I changed the random passwords to a particular format, but in future cases I will likely leave the password as a random number to enhance security.)
I insert the Meeting ID and Password into a form that I will mail to the debtor and into an email that I will send to the debtor’s attorney. As I said, each case will have a separate and unique Meeting ID and Password. Both the Meeting ID and Password are required to join a Zoom meeting.
Here is a sample of the packet I am mailing to debtors, complete with detailed instructions for downloading the Zoom app and joining a meeting. Yes, it’s long. It may discourage some debtors from reading it, and it may not give enough information to other debtors. I’ll revise as necessary.
The text of my email to the debtor’s attorney will look something like this:
Chapter 13 Trustee EDKY is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.
Topic: 20-99999 Sample
Time: Apr 11, 2020 09:45 AM
Meeting ID: 999 999 999
For security reasons, the email will NOT include a hyperlink to the meeting. The email will come from my office, not from Zoom (although I don’t yet know which specific mailbox/employee(s) will send the emails).
I recommend that attorneys go ahead and download the Zoom app on your phone and whatever device(s) you might use for videoconferencing (tablet, laptop, PC, whatever). Have your staff do the same thing. Sign up for a free basic account. Schedule and join pretend meetings with each other. Really, it’s pretty easy to set up and use.
When it’s time for the meeting, ideally all participants will follow the instructions, enter the appropriate credentials, and join the meeting. Everyone will be placed in a “waiting room” to wait for the “host” (the trustee’s 341 representative) to start the meeting. The host will admit the waiting parties to the meeting. If the host cannot identify who is in the waiting room, the unknown party might not be admitted.
Once the parties are admitted into the meeting, it may be necessary to tweak audio settings or to reposition someone’s camera. Then the trustee’s representative will swear in the debtors, and the meeting will proceed as it normally would (fingers crossed).
The debtor’s attorney will need to hold up the signature page of the petition to his/her camera so that debtors can verify their signatures. In most cases, debtors will need to hold up their photo ID’s and proof of SSN to their camera so the trustee’s representative can verify the information. However, other arrangements can be made as necessary to minimize the risk of unauthorized disclosure of PII.
Our usual practice is for the trustee’s representative to ask certain mandatory questions, then to have the debtor’s attorney ask additional questions using a list supplied by the trustee. I see no reason to change that procedure. Debtors’ attorneys, here is the list of questions you will ask.
Any creditor who wishes to attend the 341 meeting may request the Meeting ID and Password by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include the debtor’s name and case number in the email since each case will have a different meeting code. For security reasons, include enough information in the email to enable us to determine whether the request is coming from a legitimate creditor or creditor’s representative. If the request is not from a scheduled creditor or a recognized law firm, we might adjourn the meeting to another date to give us time to verify the identity of the party seeking to attend the meeting. Creditors should make their request as far in advance of the scheduled meeting date as possible.
I have no doubt that procedures and instructions will be modified as we go along. Let’s keep an open mind, give this a try, and evaluate the results. Suggestions are welcome.