Usually when we’re talking about “the trustee,” we’re talking about the individual case trustee assigned to handle your specific bankruptcy case; but actually there are several different kinds of bankruptcy trustees, with somewhat different roles. For most people, the most important trustee is the individual case trustee assigned to their case.
The individual case trustee is directly, personally involved in every case. The trustee – the individual case trustee assigned to the case – is responsible for reviewing every line of every form in the case, checking over the property, the exemptions, the classification of debts, the legal fees, everything. The trustee conducts the 341 meeting and, when it’s ready, presents the case to the judge for approval. So, when we say “the trustee,” we’re almost always talking about the individual case trustee.
Case trustees have slightly different roles, depending on the bankruptcy chapter under which the case is filed. Chapter 7 is a “liquidation,” so a Chapter 7 trustee is primarily focused on non-exempt property (if there is any) that might be sold – liquidated – for the benefit of the creditors. A Chapter 13 trustee, on the other hand, is focused primarily on implementing the Chapter 13 Plan. (In Chapter 13, any “liquidation” is done through the Plan.)
One might think of the trustee as “the enemy” – and if you’re trying to cheat the system, that’s probably true! – but as a practical matter, in most cases, the trustee is our friend, because he (or she) helps make sure the case is completely in order, eliminating problems before the case gets to the judge.
In Topeka, we have one Chapter 13 Trustee, Jan Hamilton, and three Chapter 7 trustees, Bob Baer, Patricia Hamilton (no relation to Jan!), and Darcy Williamson.
In Kansas City, we have one Chapter 13 Trustee, Bill Griffin, and four Chapter 7 trustees, Carl R. Clark, Eric C. Rajala, Steven R. Rebein, and Christopher J. Redmond.They are all experienced private bankruptcy attorneys.
You may also hear about the United States Trustee. Again, there are actually a number of US Trustees, but here we’ll consider the entire office as a whole. The United States Trustee is responsible for general oversight over the entire bankruptcy system, including the individual case trustees. In most cases, the debtor never hears anything about or from the United States Trustee, and that’s a good thing, because if they do, it’s for an audit (bad enough) or something even worse.
When we’re talking about the United States Trustee (either the office as a whole or any specific US Trustee), invariably we say “the United States Trustee,” not just “the trustee.” The United States Trustee’s Office is an official government agency and all the United States Trustees are government employees.