Earlier this month, an attorney for former Falcons quarterback Michael Vick filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy on his behalf. What makes this filing in a Virginia federal bankruptcy court so unusual is that Vick himself is serving a twenty-three month sentence in a U.S. penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. The top seven creditors listed in the case are owed almost $13 million. $3.75 million of that is a debt Vick owes the Falcons on his signing bonus. Through his conviction for bankrolling dogfighting, the Falcons claim, he breached his contract with the team.
As a bankruptcy attorney in Indiana for almost twenty-five years, I’ve seen my share of unusual circumstances related to bankruptcy filings. The reason I mention this specific story about Michael Vick relates to a remark made by one of Vick’s attorneys: “He is in the process of paying his debt back to society for the federal prosecution. This will give him the opportunity when he gets out, to start his life fresh.” That concept of a fresh start in life really sums up the principle behind the bankruptcy system in our country. The Vick case involves a celebrity; most of the individual bankruptcy cases with which I typically deal in my four Indiana bankruptcy law offices involve the private affairs of everyday working people. This case involves debts in the millions of dollars; most of the cases in which I’m involved deal in much smaller amounts. The underlying principle, though, remains the same – sometimes people need society’s help in the form of the bankruptcy safety net in order to get a true fresh start.