Bankruptcy Judges Influenced by Apologies

Saying “I’m sorry” seems to help folks who are before a judge for allegedly committing a crime. The apologies are usually to the victims. In a bankruptcy although creditors may feel victimized, there are no real victims as it is a civil not a criminal matter.

Study Reveals Apologies May Help In Bankruptcy

Bankruptcy Judges Apology

However, a recent study result strongly suggests that folks filing for bankruptcy, who apologize for having to declare bankruptcy, receive more favorable treatment than those who do not apologize. The study was released in early 2013. Two researchers wrote it, Jennifer K. Robbennolt and Robert M. Lawless, both are professors at the University Of Illinois College Of Law.

According to Lawless, people are very emotional about filing for bankruptcy and appearing in open court, especially since they are not convicted felons coming before a criminal judge. They are often stressed, sometimes angry and often humiliated and humble. The question the researchers wanted to answer is if one acts remorseful in front of a bankruptcy judge would those actions have an effect on the outcome?

In performing their research the study authors reviewed the decision of 137 bankruptcy judges, a number that equals about one-third of federal bankruptcy judges, They wanted to determine how debtors are treated by judges if they apologize for filing bankruptcy.

How The Research Was Done

The research was done by creating a fictitious bankruptcy filing for a family called the Millers. They are a married couple with two daughters who are 10 and 13 years old. Among their expenses is $270 per month for their gymnastic lessons that is included in their overall credit card debt.

The family lives in a home valued at $180,000. They are financing a $26,000 Ford Explorer SUV with a $550 per month payment. They have $25,000 in credit card debt of which $9,000 was for medical care for Mr. Miller.

Attached to the filing was a note from the Millers that described their situation:

“We have no way of keeping up with our bills and repaying everything. It is all we can do to pay the mortgage and keep food on the table. We know that we are responsible for the mess we are in. We are truly sorry.”

Since the filing was a Chapter 13 proceeding, it is unlikely that any creditors would attend – clearly, the apology was for the benefit of the judge.

Their repayment plan called for them to repay 18 percent of the money that they owed to creditors. Each of the 137 judges participating received the full account of the bankruptcy. Half of them also received an apology from the Millers regarding their errant financial ways. The judges who received the apology approved the repayment plan 40 percent of the time and the judges who did not only approved the fictional repayment plan one-third of the time.

What The Research Suggests

The researchers acknowledge that there is no great statistical divide between apologetic bankrupt filers and non-apologetic ones. However, the researchers wrote:

“Our findings suggest, perhaps not surprisingly, that judges’ decisions can be complex and multidimensional. Law matters, but so do other things.”

Photo by Leyram Odacrem