J. Levin’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation will not free him from a $750,000 court-ordered judgment designed to compensate the family of a teenager the debtor killed seven years ago.
Levin, 47 — who pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2004 and was sentenced to 52 weekends in jail — shot Mark Drewes, his 16-year-old neighbor, in the back after Drewes rang Levin’s doorbell in a late-night “ding-dong-ditch” prank, motions in Levin’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing stated.
Levin was sued by Drewes’ parents who won a judgment against Levin who eventually sought to have the judgment discharged in bankruptcy on the grounds that he could not pay it. Levin’s Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing listed his assets at $4,502 and his liability, including the judgment at $1,019,310. But Bankruptcy Judge Erik P. Kimball was not convinced that Levin’s inability to pay was enough to justify a discharge of the judgment in bankruptcy.
“The debtor is an adult,” Kimball wrote. “He owned a handgun. He took the time to retrieve the handgun and bring it to his front door. He opened the door and saw Mark Drewes. The debtor shot his handgun to repel Mark Drewes.
“It is inconceivable that the debtor did not realize Mark Drewes would be injured or killed,” Kimball added, calling Levin’s shooting “willful” and saying Levin must therefore be responsible for the consequences of the intentional act.
The ruling that the judgment cannot be discharged in bankruptcy means that the Drewes family will be able to pursue Levin for payment. However, there are some other interesting facts about this case. The bankruptcy judge emphasized the willful intent of the debtor to cause harm in this act of violence as a justification for not discharging the debt. Would the bankruptcy judge have discharged the judgment if the debtor had accidently caused harm to the victim? Of course there is no way to know for sure; but it does open up the possibility that some civil judgments designed to compensate families of crime victims might be dischargeable in bankruptcy depending on the circumstances of the crime and the discretion of the bankruptcy judge.