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Casey Anthony’s Life Story – Property of Her Bankruptcy Estate?
In 2011, the Casey Anthony murder trial made history as one of the most-watched trials ever when over 5.2 million people tuned in to view the verdict live on television. Last year, Anthony again made the news, this time for a legal issue related to her Chapter 7 Bankruptcy.
In 2013, Anthony filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy, declaring only $1,000 in assets and $792,000 in liabilities. Three of Anthony’s largest creditors were directly related to her criminal investigation: she listed her debts as $500,000 to her defense attorney, $150,000 to the Orange County Sheriff’s department for investigative fees and costs, and $60,000 to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for court costs.
As with all Chapter 7 bankruptcies, when Anthony filed, her non-exempt assets became the property of her Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Estate. A Chapter 7 Filer must list all of their assets on their bankruptcy schedule. Like many persons who file for bankruptcy, Anthony did not have many assets: she listed $474 in cash and $610 in personal property. However, her bankruptcy trustee identified one substantially valuable asset she failed to list – her life story. In Anthony’s case, the bankruptcy trustee argued that the rights to her life story were a valuable asset that could be used to help pay off her creditors.
Under “intellectual property” on her bankruptcy schedule, Anthony listed “none.” Section 101(35A) of the Bankruptcy Code defines intellectual property, which includes trade secrets, works of authorship, and inventions, among other categories. Property exemptions in both Florida and California are governed by state law rather than federal law, and Florida law does not have an exemption that clearly relates to Anthony’s life story. Thus, if Anthony’s life story was an asset that belonged to her bankruptcy estate, it may well not have been exempt.
However, Anthony argued that her life story should not be considered property of the Bankruptcy Estate because it had not yet been created. This is supported by the Section 101(35A) definition of intellectual property, because Anthony’s life story was not yet a “work of authorship.” Her attorneys argued that the life story could only have value if it was created, for example, into a book or movie, which would require post-petition labor. Likewise, selling the rights to her life story would give the purchaser control over her for the rest of her life and deny her a “fresh start.”
Whether a life story is an asset that belongs to the Bankruptcy Estate is a novel issue, and there is no precedent in case-law. Ultimately, Anthony reached a settlement agreement with her Bankruptcy Trustee and bought the rights to her own life story for $25,000. A bankruptcy judge in Florida approved the settlement agreement in December 2013.
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