Getting Off the Slope
Bankruptcy attorney Christy Myatt helps clients—and skiers—get back on their feet
Published in 2012 North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine
on January 20, 2012
Updated on January 23, 2012
For longer than she’s been an attorney, Christy Myatt has helped injured skiers travel safely down the mountains of western North Carolina. The skills she uses in her part-time ski patrol job carry over to her full-time position as a bankruptcy attorney at Nexsen Pruet.
“Both [jobs] deal with emergency situations, taking care of matters quickly and decisively,” says the partner in the firm’s Greensboro office. “I help injured skiers; I help injured companies.”
Myatt’s been part of the ski patrol since she was an undergraduate at Wake Forest University in the mid-to-late 1970s. She admits she joined as much because of her love of skiing and to get free lift tickets as to help people, but she’s stayed with it—keeping her CPR certification current and working significantly more than the requisite 12 days each year, including three Saturday nights. “I enjoy people on the patrol, and I enjoy comforting people,” she says.
That attitude transfers to debtor clients who are dealing with major financial problems. “You may lose your company, you may lose your land, but we’re not going to lose you,” Myatt tells them. “We’ll go through this together.”
Those aren’t empty words. “If Christy tells you something, you can be assured that will be the case,” says Charles Ivey III, a Greensboro attorney who represents debtors and often opposes Myatt, who frequently represents creditors like banks or other financial institutions. “She can get to the issues quickly or settle quickly.”
Nexsen Pruet partner Rick Mendoza says Myatt has a “sixth sense,” and notes, “She is keenly intelligent but also has good intuition, an ability to understand the variable levels and textures of a situation.”
It’s a trait evident in how Myatt handles companies that need to restructure their financial operations. “She has been very good at workouts,” Mendoza says. “Those kinds of matters require creativity. … Parameters are more or less set by law, but you also have to understand what clients need and want and what the other side needs and wants. It’s solution oriented. It’s finding a way to bridge the gap between the clients.”
Myatt, 55, has been bridging gaps much of her life. She grew up in High Point, the oldest of three girls, and was a cheerleader and played a variety of sports at her high school, Westchester Academy (now Westchester Country Day School). “It was a small private school—there were 15 in my graduating class—and you had to do it all,” she says. “There were not many female sports or athletes back then, but I was thrust into the environment. I’m not sure I would have done it otherwise, and I loved it.”
Other experiences during her time at Westchester pushed her toward law: In addition to encouragement from a high school teacher, Myatt saw the movie Adam’s Rib and was inspired by the attorney played by Katharine Hepburn. “I wanted to be just like her,” Myatt says. “She was independent and feisty, yet caring and supportive of her clients and family.”
Her mother, Chris Myatt, encouraged the idea. “Christy has always been a focused person, very honest, very ethical,” Chris says, noting that while there were few women attorneys at that time, in the 1970s, it didn’t faze her daughter. “She liked a challenge, whether it was swimming, skiing or going to law school—she relished a challenge.”
After earning a double major in English and political science, and then her J.D., at Wake Forest, Myatt did something unusual for new lawyers in the early 1980s—she hung out her shingle. For
2 ½ years, she ran a solo practice in her hometown, and while she had a friendly professional relationship with other law firms in High Point, she says it wasn’t always easy breaking into the male-dominated business community.
When she joined the String & Splinter Club Inc., the city club where business networking was the norm, she was among only a handful of female members. One day at lunch, at the request of the club president, she sat at a table reserved for club members only; guests and spouses weren’t allowed. Two weeks later, a club member saw her on the sidewalk and asked about the big stir she’d created at the club.
Big stir? It was news to her.
“You sat at the club table,” he said, explaining that several older male members had walked out of the club in protest. Surprised, Myatt replied, “I want to do business, and my money is just as green as theirs.”
She didn’t sit at the club table again. “Building my legal business as a young woman, I chose not to be confrontational with business owners or male lawyers,” Myatt says. “I chose to handle such matters in a more subtle fashion through hard work, respect and professionalism. Most older men were not used to the idea of women in their midst. I respected their generational perspective and didn’t want to alienate them.”
Her approach paid dividends, she says, especially as a young female attorney building her business. “A lot of [those] men would talk to me and ask for my advice, and some even became clients,” she says. “I got to where I wanted without burning any bridges.”
Around that time, she was appointed receiver in several cases involving the dissolution of furniture companies. Her job was to handle the liquidation and distribution of the companies’ assets. The work piqued her interest in bankruptcy law, and she applied for a clerkship in, among others, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District in Greensboro. When she interviewed with Judge James B. Wolfe Jr., he was so impressed that he offered her a job quickly thereafter.
For two years, Myatt watched Wolfe in the bankruptcy court. “He took a pragmatic approach,” she recalls. “Wolfe wanted the parties to work out a business solution to their legal problems if they could. He would say, ‘I want you to go into the hall and see if you can work it out.’”
Myatt took those lessons with her in 1988 to the Greensboro firm of Adams Kleemeier Hagan Hannah & Fouts, which merged with Nexsen Pruet in 2004. She’s been there ever since, often working for banks and financial institutions on real estate, construction and tax-credit lending transactions, and in workouts, debt restructuring and bankruptcy.
Of her interesting cases, SEC v. Elfindepan, S.A., et al. stands out. In 2001, she was appointed as the receiver to pursue funds and assets of Elfindepan, S.A., a company set up by Tracy Calvin Dunlap Jr. Dunlap managed to get more than 2,000 U.S. and foreign individuals to invest more than $42 million in Elfindepan’s elaborate Ponzi scheme that stretched from the U.S. to Costa Rica.
Dunlap, who was originally from Stoneville, just north of Greensboro, targeted elderly individuals, religious organizations and others. “Dunlap used backroom [unregistered] offerings: ‘Invest your money and I’ll give you a return of 12 to 15 percent,’” Myatt says. “Purported profits were reflected on the investors’ debit cards set up by Costa Rican banks so that investors could avoid paying U.S. taxes.”
“He also told some investors the money was to be invested in charitable projects in Third World countries, backed by the World Bank,” she adds. In reality, most of the money went to Dunlap, other investors and third-party brokers as commissions. In an unusual twist, Dunlap invested $8 million of the proceeds in another scam. “I chased the $8 million, too, and got some of it,” Myatt says, noting that she went to Australia and New Zealand to meet with investors in tracking the proceeds related to the second scam.
It wasn’t an easy case. Beginning in 2001, Myatt devoted a majority of her time to that case for more than two years. She traced approximately $1 million held in various banks in Costa Rica and traveled there to recover the funds. “The day I arrived [in Costa Rica] to also obtain copies of the company’s books and records, I found out that the office had purportedly been broken into and the books stolen,” she says. The missing records meant that Myatt couldn’t determine what happened to all of the investors’ funds. However, Myatt was able to recover approximately $1 million in Costa Rica and more than $5 million in the U.S. so that she was able to make a 25 percent distribution back to the investors. Dunlap is now serving a 27-year sentence in federal prison after being convicted in a separate criminal case.
Another big case for Myatt began in 2004, at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday, when she received a call from a lender’s counsel in New York. Would she represent the lender at a Winston-Salem hearing that day? “Yes,” Myatt replied, hustling off to court in Winston-Salem, about 35 miles away.
The owners of EZ Convenience Stores had filed Chapter 11, locked the doors of more than 450 locations in the Southeast and walked way. “[Because they were mad at the lender] they essentially said, ‘Here are the keys,’” Myatt recalls. The lender, whom she represented, had a lien on all of the real estate and leasehold interests, and was owed more than $130 million.
Replete with merchandise, including gasoline, perishables and ATM machines, the stores were an immediate concern for the lender. “That first weekend, there were several break-ins,” Myatt says. “Many of the stores had plate-glass fronts.”
Over the next two weeks, Myatt provided assistance in getting the locations secured. Another company had a lien on the remaining merchandise and most of the perishables were tossed out. Within 30 days, she had a trustee appointed to liquidate the properties, equipment and other assets. Within 90 days, the trustee sold the properties at a national auction through a Chicago company.
“By handling the property sales through the bankruptcy, the lender was able to sell the properties in an orderly fashion rather than foreclosing on each one in each of several states,” Myatt says, noting that the foreclosure process would have taken much longer and cost significantly more to the lender. The downfall of the store chain, incidentally, came from expanding too quickly, she says.
“Christy has great instincts—good gut feelings,” says Nexsen Pruet partner Ben Kahn. “There may be one answer to a situation legally, but she’ll look at it and use her common sense … which helps head off issues before they become issues.”
In the mid-2000s, Myatt also worked to resolve issues related to a Greensboro-based construction firm that ran into financial problems on 11 different building projects in the Southeast. Greensboro natives and former pro football players, Jeff and Joe Bostic, were financial guarantors and investors in many of the projects. They hired Myatt to determine the cause of the financial bleeding and to try to save the projects. The brothers faced $100 million in combined liabilities.
Myatt was able to obtain the resignation of the company’s president and help install a turnaround manager to run the construction company. She also retained a forensic accountant to determine the basis and size of the construction company’s losses. A second group was hired to review the status of the incomplete projects to see if they could be salvaged. Meanwhile, Myatt tried to get the banks engaged in an out-of-court workout. Most of the projects were either sold or settlements reached with the banks and other investors. When the company was placed into an involuntary bankruptcy in 2005—a legal action Myatt didn’t handle—she successfully negotiated a settlement of the Bostics’ liabilities.
When she’s not at the office, Myatt spends time with her 14-year-old son, Brantley, whom she adopted from Russia when he was 8 months old. “She is a very dedicated mother,” says attorney Charles Ivey III. “I have played golf with Brantley and her. … She’s done a terrific job with him.” Brantley loves to hear all about her court cases, Myatt says, and shares her love of golf and skiing.
Whether she’s on the slopes, handling anything from concussions to bone displacements to knee injuries, or in the office, tackling chaotic financial situations, Myatt’s goal is the same: stabilize the situation and get her patients or clients the help they need. “I like being able to help people,” she says. “Holding their hand and getting them off the slope.”