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11.21.2014
The well ran dry for the Bella Luna Condominium Association.About a quarter of its residents were in default on maintenance dues, creditors were battling the association in court, new lawsuits were in the pipeline, and it had one day left before Hialeah planned to disconnect its water supply over nearly $453,000 in unpaid bills. [more]

By: Samantha Joseph, Daily Business Review

The well ran dry for the Bella Luna Condominium Association.About a quarter of its residents were in default on maintenance dues, creditors were battling the association in court, new lawsuits were in the pipeline, and it had one day left before Hialeah planned to disconnect its water supply over nearly $453,000 in unpaid bills.With one business day left before losing utilities, the association took the unusual step of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.When it dispatched attorney Richard Robles to file the paperwork, it became one of fewer than three dozen condo associations since 1995 to file bankruptcy in the Southern District of Florida.

"The law says they can't file Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but in this particular case Chapter 11 was a very useful thing,"

said Robles of Richard R. Robles P.A. in Miami.He argued the association had no assets or revenue because its income, and the complex's common elements, belonged to residents. He asked the court to slash debt, reassign the utilities tab from the association to homeowners and allow higher assessments.East of the Palmetto Expressway near Okeechobee Road, Bella Luna was supposed to collect $200 per unit in maintenance fees for each of the 100 units at the condo complex on West 24th Street in Hialeah. But with a 25 percent delinquency rate, the monthly revenue was $15,000, or 75 percent of normal.Robles' petition included a plan to raise maintenance fees to $250 and reduce delinquency to bring in $20,000 per month in the first year and $21,250 monthly the following year.The proposal aimed to streamline the association's operations and end years of legal battles with creditors threatening new litigation.One secured creditor, Association Financial Services Inc., already had won a judgment of more than $326,000 for unpaid loans and other debts. The two sides entered a post-judgment settlement, but the fluctuating payments of $3,000 to $7,000 per month were too high for the association, so Bella Luna's bankruptcy filing sought fixed monthly payments of $2,307.Unsecured creditors also were lining up to collect nearly $330,000 for maintenance work, guard services and legal representation. Plus, collection agencies hired to collect dues for the association had turned on it, demanding money for their own unpaid bills.But it was action from the city that forced Bella Luna's hand and pushed it to find a way to cover the unpaid utilities.

"They needed to be streamlined. There were way too many expenses,"

Robles said.

"It doesn't always work. Some associations file but they can't be confirmed for some reason or another. This one worked because there were agreements entered with the city of Hialeah."

To pay the city, Bella Luna passed a special assessment of about $4,529 per unit—essentially transferring the water bill from the association to residents—and giving the city lien rights on delinquent properties.

"It was unusual but fair, and it made a big difference,"

Robles said.The move paid off Nov. 12 when U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Laurel Isicoff confirmed Bella Luna's Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan, freeing the group from hundreds of thousands in expenses and slashing about 85 percent of the unsecured debt.

Savvy Associations

"Not doing anything and waiting for balances to balloon can get associations into a hole that they can't climb out of,"

said Donna DiMaggio Berger, a Becker & Poliakoff shareholder who focuses on community associations.

"Associations are getting a lot more proactive."

In the wake of the housing crash, associations across Florida scrambled to collect dues and cover expenses in one of the hardest-hit markets. Thousands flocked to training sessions for recovery advice, and law firms offered hundreds of free training sessions for board members.The running theme: Act early to avert financial crises.

"Our recommendation to our clients is move forward. In the past when there was a lot of equity in the property, the feeling was that banks had superior loans and would do the heavy lifting,"

said DiMaggio Berger, who was not involved in the Bella Luna case.

"But associations have gotten a lot smarter about not waiting for the bank with superior liens to foreclose. They're doing it themselves, going in, taking title subject to the outstanding mortgage and renting the property."

By creating a plan for its largest debt, Bella Luna has new room to eliminate liabilities and collect operating capital.

"Now it's smooth sailing,"

Robles said.

"The savings have been dramatic."

08.07.2014
On August 7, 2014, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John K. Olson dismissed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of Debtor DocAssist, LLC in favor of the minority members Rolando and Alex Barberis. The minority members had been litigating a case in state court and had obtained a favorable ruling invalidating certain governance actions. [more]

On August 7, 2014, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John K. Olson dismissed the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of Debtor DocAssist, LLC in favor of the minority members Rolando and Alex Barberis. The minority members had been litigating a case in state court and had obtained a favorable ruling invalidating certain governance actions. The majority members then placed DocAssist, LLC into bankruptcy under Chapter 11. The court applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine determining that federal courts are not free to overrule decisions of state courts. The Court also found that collateral estoppel prevented the re-litigation of corporate governance issues.

Richard R. Robles, P.A. served as counsel for the minority members Rolando and Alex Barberis.

Full Opinion: In re DocAssist, LLC, 2014 WL 3955062 (Bankr.S.D.Fla.2014)

03.20.2014
On March 12, 2014, the Court confirmed the Chapter 11 plan of Rookery Bay Business Park, LLC. The confirmed plan eliminated a total of $9,920,000 of debt. [more]

On March 12, 2014, the Court confirmed the Chapter 11 plan of Rookery Bay Business Park, LLC. The confirmed plan eliminated a total of $9,920,000 of debt. Of this amount secured debt was reduced from $9.75 million to $2.67 million. Unsecured non-priority debt was reduced from $2.85 million to $10,000.

Richard R. Robles, P.A. represented the Debtor, Rookery Bay Business Park, LLC.

01.16.2014
This month we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment and accomplishments for equality — including voting rights — during the civil-rights movement. Even though great voting rights accomplishments have been achieved over the decades, injustices still exist. [more]

Thursday January 16, 2014
Puerto Ricans, and others still denied voting rights

BY RICHARD R. ROBLES

RROBLES@ROBLESPA.COM

This month we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment and accomplishments for equality — including voting rights — during the civil-rights movement. Even though great voting rights accomplishments have been achieved over the decades, injustices still exist.

U.S. citizens residing in American territories such as Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Samoa are denied the right to vote for president. The premise is that these territories are not states of the union, and therefore, U.S. citizens residing in these territories must be denied the right to vote.

But a U.S. citizen, for example, residing in, say, North Korea, under the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act, will still maintain his or her right to vote. This is the same for any other country that the citizen moves to as long as they resided in a state of the union prior to moving. However, a U.S. citizen who was born in a territory will never have the right to vote as long as they are a resident of that or another U.S. territory.

An immigrant can become a naturalized U.S. citizen and, once doing so, will have the right to vote for president of the United States, but a U.S. citizen born in the United States will not have the right to vote if they reside in a U.S. territory.

In the case of Puerto Rico, the argument has been made that Puerto Rico can simply become a state. That argument attempts to draw this injustice into the political realm. This is not a political issue but a constitutional one.

Puerto Rico has three main political parties, each vying for its own political cause. Each party has a distinct position on what Puerto Rico’s status should be. But this political debate on status has no bearing on the underlying right to equality being denied under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Still, constitutional arguments continue to be deflected in the federal courts. And the pretext is that the mechanism for correcting this inequality is through statehood. This pretext is fundamentally flawed.

There is an obvious and acknowledged denial of voting rights to U.S. citizens residing in the U.S. territories. Maybe Puerto Rico becoming a state someday will correct the Puerto Rican suffrage issue. But what about those U.S. territories that may never become a state? Will these U.S. citizens always be denied the right to vote?

As King put it “[a] right delayed is a right denied.” Even though the federal courts have posed this as a political question that they cannot decide and is best left to congressional legislation, the federal courts do have the power to declare unconstitutional this denial of equal protection of the laws, thus leaving the means of correction to the legislative branch.

Then politics comes into play again. Some argue that in the case of Puerto Rico, if its residents were to be granted the right to vote, then it would be a blue territory in favor of the Democratic Party. So the political fear is a preconceived notion that certain people will not vote a certain way and therefore they should be denied that very right to vote.

The argument also fails to recognize that states change from blue to red based on the person who is running and the effectiveness of the campaign. For example, Florida was red for George W. Bush but blue for Barack Obama. How can any political party think that it does not have to win the votes it needs? And a true and democratic election would require participation by all its citizens.

As we honor King and his accomplishments for the betterment of our country, we must remember that the civil rights movement is ongoing. As he said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Denying U.S. citizens this fundamental right to vote must not be permitted to continue, because one vote denied under such circumstances is as if no true vote was taken at all.

Richard R. Robles is founder and past president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida. He is an attorney in Miami.

 

The Miami Herald www.miamiherald.com January 16, 2014

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