Attorneys told Genmar dealers Wednesday they deserve a "seat at the table" during the company's Chapter 11 reorganization and urged them not to become "sitting ducks" during the proceedings.
New York-based lawyers Leonard Bellavia, from Bellavia Gentile & Associates, and Eric Snyder, from Siller Wilk, along with the Marine Retailers Association of America, held a webinar to discuss forming a dealer's committee to represent dealer interests in the bankruptcy.
(Bellavia and Snyder also were involved in representing auto dealers in the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies.)
"What you don't want to do is wait until something happens and then try and get legal representation," Bellavia said during the nearly hour-long webinar. "We're on call to examine the court docket on an hourly basis to see what's happening, whether any activity is taking place that potentially impacts the dealers and respond quickly."
Unlike other types of litigation, they said, bankruptcy cases can move swiftly through the courts, often giving interested parties only days to respond to motions filed on behalf of the debtor.
To form a committee, Bellavia said they need 150 to 200 dealers to participate, with each paying $1,000 for involvement. The money would be refunded if not enough dealers join and the committee cannot move forward.
One of the main concerns of dealers was the desire to remain anonymous and not have their names, or the names of their dealerships, publicly known for fear of retribution.
Snyder said he would request anonymity of committee members, and while there are "no slam dunks" in legal proceedings, it helps to be able to show a judge evidence of coercion.
"We have some information showing coercion by Genmar," Snyder said, noting coercion can range from a Genmar executive asking a dealer if he planned to join the committee to an out-and-out threat against any dealer who joins the group.
Genmar Holdings chairman Irwin Jacobs told Soundings Trade Only that these claims are "absolutely ridiculous."
"I have no intention of reprimanding or causing any dealers any hardship," he said this morning. "I know nothing about [coercion] whatsoever, and if I find out anybody in our company has done anything to any dealers, I will personally fire them."
Jacobs said he's not upset with any dealers, but rather with MRAA president Phil Keeter for attempting to form such a group, which he says is not necessary.
Snyder noted that he could file the request for anonymity on behalf of the MRAA and any dealer willing to be named and, if it's granted, others could join in at that point.
"The more that come forward now, the better, but if it's just the MRAA so be it," he said.
Keeter said the association was taking this unprecedented step at the request of the membership and urged those interested to contact him and get their money in now.
More coverage of the Genmar bankruptcy will be in the upcoming August issue of Trade Only.
— Beth Rosenberg