Reorganizations dominated Buddy Ford’s massive 2010 bankruptcy case load

TAMPA - The philosophy driving Buddy D. Ford's law practice was developed years ago when he was a clerk for Joe Lee, a bankruptcy court judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky.

Clerking for Lee left an indelible impression on Ford and ultimately led him to specialize in bankruptcy law.

"Judge Lee taught me that bankruptcy court is a court of equity," Ford said. "It levels the playing field. It's designed to give a person or a company a fresh start. I decided I want to help people go through this process with dignity, and that's been my motto."

One of the major go-to bankruptcy lawyers in Tampa, Ford has handled thousands of bankruptcy cases and represented debtors, creditors, receivers, banks, trustees and creditors' committees.

By necessity, Ford's typical workday lasts 14 to 16 hours, six days a week. He doesn't see that easing up any time soon because of the number of bankruptcies, mostly Chapter 11 cases, and related cases his firm handles.

The firm has five lawyers, including two he hired this year to help with the workload of cases.

Soft-spoken with a tinge of Southern drawl, Ford received his law degree from the University of Kentucky and was a county commissioner for two years in Pike County, Ky.

He still has a 30-acre farm in Kentucky, and when he's not boating on one of his rare long weekends, he heads to the farm and the mountains of Kentucky and Tennessee. Churchill Downs is one of his haunts in the spring when he and friends who have had the same seats for years watch horse racing.

Ford provided some perspectives on bankruptcy and his bankruptcy law practice:

How many bankruptcy cases have you handled in 2010 and how does the number compare to last year? It will be in the neighborhood of 600 new cases by the end of the year. That's up 30 to 40 percent over last year. Most of ours are reorganizations.

What businesses are you seeing most in bankruptcy? We're doing a lot of motels. That seems to be a niche area for the past year. The motel/restaurant industry has been hit hard by the bad economy. Per diems are less and occupancy and property values are down. It's been a disaster for the motel industry. One of our cases was a motel that was new in 2008. It was a $15 million motel, and the principals financed $11 million. It's appraised at $5.6 million now.

What case do you remember the most? A major case that sticks in my mind involved a developer who had taken deposits to build homes that were never completed or even started. It was the beginning of the downturn and a lot of victims lost their money. It was one of the most disturbing cases I've ever handled.

It sounds as if you take sort of a personal interest in your cases - do you? Yes. It's a humbling and humiliating decision to file bankruptcy. A good bankruptcy practitioner tries to let clients go through the process with dignity. Bankruptcy used to have a stigma, but I don't see much abuse of the system. It's very rare.

What do you foresee for the number of bankruptcy filings next year? I think the number will increase because of a further decline in property values. We're seeing more bankruptcies now on the commercial side.

Is there anything you'd like to comment on involving your practice or the bankruptcy system? I think the Middle District [of Florida bankruptcy court] is one of the best in the country. It's a major asset to have such a good system. I've litigated in many states, and we have a great system here even with the sheer volume of cases.