Fearing the Internal Revenue Service was closing in, highprofile Spokane attorney Russell Van Camp said Tuesday he sought bankruptcy protection before the government could seize his assets.
But Van Camp, who is receiving national attention in the Baby Ryan case, said he fully intends to pay income taxes, interest and penalties as soon as the IRS tells him exactly what he owes.
Van Camp, 48, appeared at a creditors’ meeting Tuesday as part of his filing for Chapter 11 reorganization.
This time, he was represented not by himself, but by Spokane bankruptcy attorney Jack Reeves.
“The only time the IRS listens is when you pop them in bankruptcy court,” Reeves said outside the proceeding. “Mr. Van Camp is being painted as some sort of tax protester when all he wants is to pay his taxes.”
An IRS official declined comment.
Van Camp estimates that he owes the agency $210,000, but said the figure changes “wildly” every time he inquires. He won’t pay until he learns what is owed and if his past payments have been credited, Reeves said.
Seafirst Bank says Van Camp owes more than $35,000 on his law office mortgage, but Reeves said that debt will be paid by a former law partner or other parties to the claim.
Van Camp filed for Chapter 11 protection Oct. 17 in Denver under his formal first name of Walter. He listed a Denver business address that turned out to be a mailbox.
After reviewing his assets and liabilities and determining Van Camp had no ties to Colorado, a U.S. bankruptcy judge recently transferred the case to Spokane and threatened to report the attorney for bankruptcy fraud.
Van Camp has been in the national spotlight since November, when he was hired by Spokane couple Nghia and Darla Nguyen on behalf of their newborn.
He is preparing a negligence lawsuit against Sacred Heart Medical Center for its handling of Baby Ryan. The Nguyens now live in Vancouver, Wash., to be close to the Portland hospital that is providing Ryan’s care.
Van Camp was called before creditors Tuesday by the U.S. Trustee’s Office, a Department of Justice arm that Congress created in 1988 to speed up bankruptcy cases and relieve the court of some administrative duties.
Government lawyer Gary Farrell wanted to know why Van Camp filed in Denver, if he had accurately listed his debts and assets, and the nature of several corporations and businesses to which Van Camp is a party.
Van Camp said he filed in Denver so he could be closer to the Ogden, Utah, IRS agents pursuing the agency’s debt.
He also said the Colorado filing would protect his law clients by shielding them from bad publicity stemming from the case.
Van Camp, who represented himself when he filed for bankruptcy protection, admitted Tuesday to making several errors in his assets/ liabilities claims.
Instead of assets of $158,500, Van Camp now claims $668,650, including $450,000 for his West Broadway law office.
Original total liabilities of $210,302 now are $410,302 from unpaid loans on the law building and two houses. Van Camp also conceded he owns an old camper he had not listed as an asset, and owes about $600 to $700 on a Sears credit card.
Van Camp said there’s truth to the adage that an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client.
“You had a crummy bankruptcy attorney in Denver,” Reeves joked to Van Camp after the proceeding.
Reeves accused the government’s attorney of airing Van Camp’s past for the benefit of a newspaper reporter. Farrell had questioned Van Camp about civil judgments that Van Camp said had been satisfied and are old news.
“Any more dirty linen you want to hang out?” Reeves fired at Farrell.
“I think you have one purpose here today. Do you work for the U.S. Trustee’s Office or The SpokesmanReview?”
Farrell did not answer the criticism. Reeves apologized to him after the meeting.
Van Camp’s bankruptcy filing states he earns $120,000 a year before taxes.
In addition to living expenses, he has the following monthly payments: $1,250 for a $500,000 life insurance policy; $1,000 in withholding taxes; $1,000 in alimony for his ex-wife, Cheryl Van Camp of Lebanon, Ore.; $1,000 to his ex-wife’s attorney; and $650 for his ex-wife as part of their divorce decree, which states she be reimbursed for taxes owed the IRS from their marriage.
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