Even bankruptcy court isn't kind to Vick
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- A bankruptcy judge in Virginia on Friday refused to approve an elaborate financial plan developed by Michael Vick, two law firms and an accounting firm. Judge Frank Santoro said he thought Vick's ambitious plan to pay his massive debts was not "feasible" and gave Vick one more chance to come up with a more realistic plan. The judge's ruling raises a series of legal questions. Here are some of the questions and their answers:
Was the judge's ruling against Vick and his plan a surprise?
Yes. Any time a bankruptcy judge in the U.S. court system refuses to approve a plan that allows a debtor to pay his debts, as Vick's plan did, it is a surprise. The laws of bankruptcy favor reorganization plans like the plan Vick and his attorneys developed. The vast majority of such plans are approved. But practicality is one of the crucial elements in any plan; and after listening to Vick discuss it during his testimony on Friday, the judge decided that it would not work.
What was it about the plan that caused the judge to conclude that it is not feasible?
Vick needs $1 million on May 1 to make the first payments required under the plan. Although his legal team produced vast quantities of financial projections and analysis, the judge determined that Vick would have only $210,000 in hard cash by then, well short of the funds needed. Vick told the court that he is ready to sign what he and his lawyers claim is a $600,000 documentary television deal, but the judge was not impressed. "Pure speculation," he said. The judge also criticized the plan's provisions for Vick to maintain two houses and four cars. He told Vick that he should reconsider his financial future and find a home "you can afford." And finally, while the judge expressed hope that Vick will be reinstated by the NFL, he wasn't convinced that Vick's future professional football success -- and the money that comes with it -- is guaranteed.
Vick tried to convince the judge that he is remorseful and has turned his life in a new direction. Did the judge believe him?
Although Judge Santoro was respectful and careful in his comments, it is clear that he was not impressed with Vick's story of true remorse and a change in lifestyle. Vick managed a few moments of sincerity, but he lost some credibility when he claimed at one point that he was "locked down 23 hours a day" in the federal penitentiary, which caused the judge to look up, startled, from his notes. There are no lockdowns in federal minimum security. A few minutes later, attorney Warren Harless, in a deft cross-examination, confronted Vick with convincing evidence that he had removed $150,000 illegally from a defined benefit pension fund, something Vick had already said he knows to be prohibited. Vick told the court he was "desperate" for money. Attorney Harless then noted that if Vick again felt "desperate," his reorganization plan would be in serious jeopardy. It was a bad moment for Vick.
After earning $40 million in the NFL, how did Vick end up in so deep a financial hole?
In his testimony, Vick described a series of financial advisers whom he hired and fired. Some of the investments Vick described are mystifying. For example, when Nike was paying him $2 million for endorsements, Vick said he spent virtually all of that money on a series of life insurance policies on himself and his mother. He said he once invested in a doctor's emergency room at the Miami Airport. And in another questionable decision, he said he once hired an adviser recommended by his younger brother, Marcus.
How bad a setback is this for Vick?
A serious one. He now faces legal and accounting bills of $3.7 million for the work that developed the plan. Judge Santoro pointed out to Vick and his lawyers that that is an expenditure of $13,000 per day during the 270 days of the litigation. More importantly, Vick has failed in what was supposed to be the first step in a campaign for reinstatement in the NFL. If he had a plan that would pay his creditors, he would be able to suggest to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell that he is on the road to financial maturity. But that plan went up in smoke on Friday. Even worse, Vick and his lawyers now realize that Vick's testimony before Judge Santoro was not effective. He will have to show more sincerity and veracity when he speaks to Goodell than he was able to produce before Judge Santoro.
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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