Wailing on Each Other

Plus: Seeing Red

Geddie's obvious dedication to the instrument is one reason it's hard to dismiss her as simply a mental case. The other is her history as a successful whistleblower. In 1994, Geddie blew open a federal investigation into Henry Billingsley, son-in-law of Dallas developer Trammell Crow, and his relationship with representatives of Libya, then under strict U.S. sanctions. Geddie made public dozens of documents, obtained while she worked for Billingsley's wife, Lucy Crow, confirming that Billingsley had close dealings with Libya's treasury ministry. Billingsley was eventually convicted of smuggling the minister into the country. "I nailed Trammell Crow's family to the wall," Geddie says proudly.

Her hopes of doing the same to Seaton will be determined this week. Geddie has filed a motion complaining that Seaton has not provided any of the financial information she requested, nor allowed her to take his deposition. Seaton's lawyer Malcolm Shaw has countered by asking that Geddie be designated a "vexatious litigant." However the case is decided, it has roiled the normally placid waters of the accordion world. "I told her, 'You know what you're doing is driving a wedge,'" Swayze says. "'You're going to turn the whole membership against you.'" But Geddie doesn't seem to be worried about that as long as she is getting to the object of her discontent, Norman Seaton. And she seems to be. "She's very irritating," Seaton says. --Rick Kennedy

Seeing Red
People in Dallas and the surrounding area are filing for bankruptcy like it's going out of style and in a way, they're right. On October 17, a more restrictive federal law regulating bankruptcy goes into effect which has prompted a veritable stampede of financially plagued individuals to beat the grim deadline.

Natasha Geddie is suing former members of the 
accordion group she helped to create.
Natasha Geddie is suing former members of the accordion group she helped to create.

In August, 2,117 people examined their debt load, raised their hands in dismay and filed for Chapter 7 in the United States Bankruptcy Court in the North District of Texas, up from 1,236 the year before. That's an 80 percent increase, and one may expect an even sharper jump when September's numbers are released.

"Right now I'm running at least 10 times my average volume," says Mark Ian Agee, a bankruptcy attorney. "If you ever thought in your life that you might need to file for bankruptcy this is the time."

"If you're on the fence," adds attorney Julianne Parker, "See an attorney ASAP."

That's because the new Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act makes it more difficult and costly to file for bankruptcy. Passed in April, the new law says that if you make more than the state's median income you're now subject to a complicated means test to see if you qualify for Chapter 7. (In Texas, that's a tad over $33,000 for one earner, and up to $56,000 for a household of four.) If the debtor can pay at least $6,000-$10,000 of his total unsecured debt over a five-year period, after a deduction of expenses, Chapter 7 may not be an option anymore. But Agee says that the law is so poorly written that he thinks that more people will be eligible for Chapter 7 than the credit and banking industries realized when they helped draft the restrictive bill.

"What we are finding out is that more high-income debtors are qualifying under the means test," he says.

If you make under the median income, the new law won't be dramatically different, although bankruptcy has always been more about the middle class who have the credit to accumulate punishing debts in the first place.

Interestingly, while many more people are filing for Chapter 7 in the North and East Districts, which covers the affluent residents of Collin County, Chapter 13 filings remain stable. Chapter 13 allows the debtor to keep certain non-exempt property, like boats and vacation houses, and pay off debts while living on an extremely tight budget for a period of three to five years. But Texas state law exempts more assets than other states, making Chapter 13 less desirable.

The new bankruptcy law will also require stricter financial documentation (which could affect hurricane victims who lost records in the storm) and will likely increase the fees for attorneys, who now will be expected to corroborate their clients financial status. It will also affect single mothers, as child support will now count as income.

The new law is supposed to discourage debtors from filing for bankruptcy as a way to avoid paying debts, but Parker, the attorney, says those people were already being disqualified by bankruptcy trustees.

"My clients filed for bankruptcy because they couldn't pay their debts," Parker says. "Not because they didn't want to pay them but they couldn't. This new law won't change that." --Matt Pulle

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