Territorial bankruptcy court to sit in San Juan (vertical-x1)
Judge Swain began her judicial career in the Eastern District of New York. (Supplied)

Washington/San Juan – Through an order on the case filed by the Oversight Board, the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, John Roberts, yesterday entrusted New York federal judge, Laura Taylor Swain, with the bankruptcy process to restructure Puerto Rico’s public debt.

By inserting his order to the case filed Wednesday by the authority controlling all financial decisions of the government of Puerto Rico, Roberts confirmed that the new territorial bankruptcy system created by PROMESA will have as its seat the Federal Court of San Juan.

Judge Swain began her judicial career in the Eastern District of New York, before being appointed on July 11, 2000 to the Southern District Federal Court of New York by president Bill Clinton.

During the financial crisis she oversaw three of the six cases related to the fraud by assets’ manager Bernard Maddoff and several of his employees.

For former bankruptcy judge Gerardo Carlo-Altieri, Chief Justice Roberts was right in naming Swain. “It’s an extraordinary appointment,” said Carlo-Altieri, who met the judge when they both worked as bankruptcy judges.

“She is an intelligent, simple, and sensible person and that combines with intellect and experience,” said Carlo-Altieri, when stressing that, because she is afro American, she shares (something in common) with US Puerto Ricans, belonging to a minority group.

According to Carlo-Altieri, Swain’s attributes made her into one of the youngest bankruptcy judges and because of her track-record, she was quickly promoted to district judge to hear the controversies in one of the most important districts, such as the Southern District of New York.

“It is in this district where the biggest and most complex cases are heard. She is accustomed to working with lawyers who’re highly sophisticated in economics and Law,” added Carlo-Altieri, who presided over the Island’s federal bankruptcy court and was part of a bankruptcy judges panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

Carlo-Altieri further highlighted that, before being part of the judiciary, Swain was a labor attorney. “This is extraordinary, because one of the problems of Puerto Rico deals with the pensions,” he said.

Meanwhile, an attorney living in New York who knows her, described her as a cautious and fair judge. “She wants the process to be fair for those involved and (for them) to know what to expect from her,” she said.

PROMESA placed in the hands of the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court the appointment of the judge who would oversee the new territorial bankruptcy system created to settle the Island’s debt crisis.

The OversightBoard that controls the public finances of Puerto Rico on Wednesday filed the first judicial restructuring case under Tittle III of PROMESA, with the intent of readjusting close to $12 billion in general obligations of the Puerto Rican government.

In total, the Board hopes to restructure close to $49 billion in government debt and its public utilities, of about $69 billion, not including an additional $49 billion debt with the pension system.

A Harvard graduate, Swain was bankruptcy judge for the Eastern District of New York from 1996 through 2000. She took over her position as judge to the Southern District of New York on August 31, 2000. 

Between 2007 and 2010, Swain presided over the Advisory Committee on federal bankruptcy rules of the Judicial Conference of the United State.

She will now have to deal with the biggest bankruptcy ever of a government within the federal system.


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