Longform

The Rise and Fall of the Hallmark Kid

Dark-suited attorneys clog the antechamber to bankruptcy courtroom 308. Six days after the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in northern Virginia were attacked, a jittery mood permeates the third floor of the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale. Snippets of conversations about terrorism and imminent war swirl about the huddles of people waiting for Judge Paul Hyman to begin hearings at 9:30 a.m. One young man, however, stands alone, oblivious to the implications of the terrorist attacks -- just as he's seemingly oblivious to the repercussions of his deeds of the past few years.

Ryan Adam Lipner has forgone the traditional garb worn before a federal judge, donning instead a polo shirt, khaki pants, and sneakers, of which the front left sole has separated, giving his foot the appearance of a small alligator preparing to snap. Lipner can't stop bouncing from foot to foot. Snap. Snap. Snap.

Some attorneys present know him or at least remember his previous antics in Hyman's court, where he has insisted on representing himself in his personal bankruptcy case. Lipner calls himself "the Hallmark Kid" with the braggadocio of an outlaw in the Old West. The nickname, however, is just one of the milder affectations stemming from his obsession with the famed greeting card company that has led him to grand theft, bankruptcy, imprisonment, and possibly insanity -- all before his 18th birthday. "You don't fuck with the Hallmark Kid," he's fond of saying.

Lipner's adversaries are clustered nearby in the anteroom: an assistant state attorney, a representative of a company to which Lipner owes money, and a bankruptcy trustee. As exciting as the prospect of standing before Hyman is to Lipner, however, he's more thrilled about his bid for governorship. "Even if I don't win, it's gonna be so much fun, on-stage with Janet Reno and Jeb Bush, having fun and acting like a fucking asshole," he chirps.

Fun and vengeance -- those are the two self-confessed motives behind many of Lipner's transgressions, which include swindling vendors and skipping out on leases. But those pretexts are merely the water out of the well. The aquifer itself is a deep need for control of a Hallmark store (indeed of the Hallmark company itself), a fixation that began while he was still a preteen working at his father's two Hallmark stores in Cooper City and Bradenton. An only child caught in his parents' divorce in 1992 and subsequent messy custody battles, Lipner seems to have grasped the orderliness of Hallmark displays as a life raft.

At 9:40 scores of people shuffle into the courtroom. Lipner is first on the docket because he had earlier filed an emergency motion to change his bankruptcy from a Chapter 7 to a Chapter 13, which means reorganizing debt and making payments to certain creditors. Lipner, however, is hoping to get in the judge's face about a five-page, single-spaced motion he wrote and filed on August 28. In it Lipner claims that the management of Pompano Square Mall seized his card-and-gift shop, changed the store's locks, and stole thousands of dollars' worth of collectibles the day after the teen had filed bankruptcy in June.

Lipner's wishes notwithstanding, Soneet Kapila, the bankruptcy trustee, has quite a different goal this morning. She has brought with her Margaret Carpenter, an assistant state attorney, who plans to inform Hyman that Lipner has been ruled mentally incompetent in Broward County Circuit Court this summer during a criminal case. Kapila wants Lipner's bankruptcy case dismissed based on that finding.

"So you're here to change from Chapter 7 to Chapter 13?" Hyman asks Lipner, who is now bobbing from foot to foot before the judge.

"No, your honor," Lipner replies. "I now want to change to Chapter 11." Hyman, patient with the request despite a bevy of cases on the docket, informs the young man that he needs to file a new motion to do so. But Kapila interjects that such action is moot given that Carpenter is here to inform the court of Lipner's incompetence. Hyman, however, stymies the move, advising Kapila that she must file a motion claiming such before he'll consider dismissing the case.

Witnessing the setback in the opposing camp, Lipner senses weakness and launches into an ad hominem rant about Pompano Square Mall's management. "I'm constantly being harassed by them," he barks. "They've been calling certain teachers at my school, and now they're hassling me." The mall's attorney, Richard Laren, stands nearby, slowly shaking his head, but says nothing. Hyman cuts Lipner off. "You need to file an appropriate motion," Hyman intones, as though instructing a child to clean his room. As for Kapila's request, any question about Lipner's mental capacity will be the subject of a future evidentiary hearing, Hyman concludes.

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson