ILC Judicial Profiles Series

The Insolvency Law Committee has begun a series of judicial profiles to which we will add new profiles from time to time.

ILC Judicial Profile Series: United States Bankruptcy Judge Thomas B. Donovan (Central District of California) (October 12, 2016)

The following is a profile of the Honorable Thomas B. Donovan – the sixth in a series of profiles of Ninth Circuit bankruptcy judges. Judge Donovan and members of the Insolvency Law Committee met in his chambers and discussed his personal and professional background, observations from the bench, and issues of interest.

Judge Donovan was appointed to the bench in March 1994, and reappointed in 2008. Although his current term expires in 2022, he plans to retire as of March 24, 2017.

Two Paths

Judge Donovan grew up in San Jose, California. In high school, he was a competitive golfer, and considered a professional career in the sport. Instead, he enrolled in college and married his high school and college classmate during his junior year. He reflects that he could not imagine his wife being excited about the prospect of him choosing a professional golf career, and clarifies that in those days such a career did not offer the same benefits that it does now.

The judge spent two years at San Jose State College and transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he received his BA degree in 1957. For the next two years, he served in the U.S. Army Security Agency, where he held a position that was “top secret, fun, interesting and gave [him] an opportunity to roam around Washington, D.C.” When the Army learned about his golf skills, he “was ordered to play golf” for the Army’s team. That got the judge an extra day off from his military duties each week. After two years in the military, Judge Donovan had the opportunity to stay in the Army, leave government service, or take another position with another governmental agency. “I could have written my own ticket,” he says. Instead, he chose to enroll in law school back in California, ending his path toward a career in golf.

The judge last hit a golf ball fourteen years ago, joking that he’s a five-time recovering golfer. He readily admits that he had an obsession with the game and found that being a judge and a golfer were both “all-consuming” and incompatible. He chose the bench over the fairway.

Before Taking the Bench

After law school at Boalt Hall, at the University of California, Berkeley, the judge spent a brief time as an associate at Covington and Burling in Washington, D.C. He and his wife returned to California in 1964, and Judge Donovan joined Dinkelspiel and Dinkelspiel, an eleven-attorney, seven-partner firm in San Francisco, California.

On his first day at the new firm, the bankruptcy partner handed the judge an assignment on a case where the firm represented the chapter 7 trustee. The case involved an issue under the Bankruptcy Act where the debtor wrote checks post-petition from a corporate bank account, and the trustee filed suit against the bank to recover the funds. When Judge Donovan prevailed in the bankruptcy and district courts, the bank appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Having done such a great job to that point, Dinkelspiel let Judge Donovan argue the appeal. Though he wanted to argue the case on the merits, “in a fit of conscience” at the start of oral argument, Judge Donovan told the appellate panel that, because the trustee had in fact received the disputed funds from the debtor, the appeal might be moot. The judges on the panel huddled together and, after what appeared to be some “snickering,” announced that argument on the merits should proceed and “we’ll see what happens.” In a unanimous decision, the panel ruled in favor of Judge Donovan’s client on the merits.

The bank filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the Supreme Court, which was granted. The judge’s first assigned case at the Dinkelspiel law firm had become a United States Supreme Court case and, only four years out of law school, the judge was allowed to present at oral argument. He notes that he argued the case vigorously and that “it was fun to match wits with the justices.”

While his opponent was barely challenged, Judge Donovan’s time was extended for twenty minutes by the court to accommodate the barrage of questions he received. At the end of oral arguments, the clerk of the court shook his hand and told him it was a great argument. A month later, the Supreme Court reversed. Six justices joined the majority decision authored by Justice Douglas, with Justice Harlan dissenting and Justice Fortas writing separately that he would remand the case with instructions to dismiss. See Bank of Marin v. England, 385 U.S. 99 (1966). Regardless of the outcome, it is clear that the judge thoroughly enjoyed his experience arguing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court. To read the Supreme Court’s opinion in the Bank of Marin v. England, click here.

Judge Donovan remained at the Dinkelspiel firm for five years, was elected partner, but instead decided with four of his friends at the firm to leave to create a new law firm that eventually became the law firm of Dinkelspiel, Donovan and Reder. Starting the new firm was a big risk because “we all had small kids and mortgages.” However, he reminisces that things “worked out nicely and that, since then, nobody ever told me what to do or how to do it. It was all on me.”

Around the age of 43, the judge took a three-month sabbatical. He asked the presiding judge for the Oakland-Piedmont Municipal Court, a social friend, whether he could volunteer at the court for about a month. On his first day at the court, to his surprise his friend handed him a robe and showed him to a courtroom. For the next month, Judge Donovan presided over approximately 800 small claim cases, heard the law and motion calendar, acted as a settlement officer, and presided over a civil trial. “I loved the experience of hanging out with the judges and seeing how they related to each other.”

Partly based on that experience, Judge Donovan decided that he wanted to serve as a bankruptcy judge, but waited until his two children graduated from college before applying. Though he lived in Berkeley, he recognized that the bankruptcy judges in the Northern District of California were all fairly young and had ten or more years left on their 14-year terms, so there were likely very few positions to become available. After coming in as a finalist for a single opening in the Northern District, he applied for a position that opened in the Central District of California. This time, he was offered, and accepted, the judicial appointment.

Observations from the Bench

The judge speaks glowingly about his permanent law clerk, Candace Crociani. “She’s my partner and chief of staff. Everyone knows and likes her. She also keeps me from wandering off in a direction that I shouldn’t be going in.” Judge Donovan adds, “We get a lot of routine issues and about 1-3 tricky issues per week. It’s the difficult issues that take up most of our time. Without those cases, though, the job wouldn’t be as interesting.” The judge’s management style involves “a lot of collaboration with the law clerks and externs. We talk a lot about the tough issues.” Judge Donovan’s ultimate test on each decision is whether it is “fair, just and correct. I don’t want to impact people unfairly. I want to do right by everyone.” The judge enjoys being a trial judge, and does not spend time worrying about how issues might come out on appeal.

Making History

Judge Donovan has presided over a number of high profile cases. One such case is Law v. Siegel, involving the bankruptcy court’s authority to surcharge the homestead exemption of a debtor who engaged in certain misconduct. The case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, which held that, under the circumstances of that case, the Chapter 7 trustee could not surcharge the debtor’s homestead exemption to pay for his legal fees. Click here for the full decision.

Judge Donovan was also presented with the important landmark issue of whether a same-sex married couple could jointly file a chapter 13 petition. The case was originally Judge Ahart’s case, but became Judge Donovan’s case when Judge Ahart moved to the Woodland Hills courthouse. The Office of the United States Trustee filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the debtors did not have the right to file a joint petition based on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

The debtors and their attorney Peter Lively approached David Stern and Robert Pfister of Klee Tuchin Bogdanov & Stern LLP to help, and they agreed. Stern, Pfister and Lively filed a roughly one hundred-page brief that Judge Donovan describes as “the best brief I’ve ever read.” The other bankruptcy judges in the Central District were tracking the case closely and asked Judge Donovan to share his decision before it was issued. The judge agreed to do so, but let the other judges know that the decision would be his own. He spent every free hour he had reviewing cases and considering the issue. He concluded that the married debtors had a constitutional right to file a joint petition, and that dismissing the petition based on DOMA would violate the debtors’ due process and equal protection rights. The judge circulated his final draft decision to his Central District colleagues and was surprised that 19 of them voluntarily joined him in signing the decision supporting the right of the debtors to file a joint petition. Following a short-lived appeal that was quickly withdrawn, the Department of Justice announced that it would no longer defend DOMA. Judge Donovan dismisses suggestions that he was “brave” to issue his decision in In re Balas and Morales. “I ruled based on what I concluded was the correct interpretation of the law. I just did my job.” To read the Memorandum of Decision in In re Balas and Morales, click here.

The Next Chapter

The judge’s current term on the bench expires in March 2022, but he is retiring this coming March 2017. Despite his and Judge Richard M. Neiter’s upcoming retirement, the judge notes that the Ninth Circuit has not announced any intent to appoint new judges to fill the two empty seats. “There are not enough cases to warrant a new appointment. In my 22 years on the bench, it’s never been so slow.” The judge reflects that “it’s really been a privilege to serve as a judge. I feel really lucky that the powers-that-be gave me the opportunity. It has been challenging, fun and a serious responsibility.”

In a move that may surprise bankruptcy practitioners, in retirement, Judge Donovan plans to study astrophysics; in particular, what we know about the universe and recent developments. “I’d like to befriend an astrophysics professor at Cal Tech and follow them and learn.” Although Judge Donovan may still hear some cases post-retirement, it seems more likely that he will delve into other issues of interest with the same level of attention that he has given to the law as an attorney and judge for fifty-five years.

This article was written by Corey R. Weber (cweber@brutzkusgubner.com), a partner at Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP, a member of the California State Bar’s Business Law Section Executive Committee and immediate past Co-Chair of the Insolvency Law Committee (ILC); Uzzi O. Raanan, a partner at Danning, Gill, Diamond & Kollitz, LLP, Vice-Chair of the California State Bar’s Business Law Section and Past Co-Chair of the ILC (uraanan@dgdk.com); Leib Lerner, a partner at Alston & Bird LLP and immediate past Co-Chair of the ILC (Leib.Lerner@alston.com); and Asa S. Hami, an attorney at SulmeyerKupetz, APC, and Co-Chair of the ILC (ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com).

Thank you for your continued support of the Committee.

Best regards,

Insolvency Law Committee

Co-Chair
Reno Fernandez
Macdonald Fernandez LLP
Reno@MacFern.com

Co-Chair
Asa S. Hami
SulmeyerKupetz, A Professional Corporation
ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com

Co-Vice Chair
Radmila A. Fulton
Law Offices Radmila A. Fulton
Radmila@RFultonLaw.com

Co-Vice Chair
John N. Tedford, IV
Danning, Gill, Diamond & Kollitz, LLP
JTedford@dgdk.com

ILC Judicial Profile Series: United States Bankruptcy Judge M. Elaine Hammond (Northern District of California) (August 5, 2016)

The following article is a profile of the Honorable M. Elaine Hammond – the fifth in a series of profiles of Ninth Circuit bankruptcy judges.  Judge Hammond and members of the Insolvency Law Committee met in her chambers and discussed her personal and professional background, observations from the bench, and issues of interest.

The Judge's Hometown and Her Road to the Bay Area

Judge Hammond calls Charlotte, North Carolina her hometown. She received her undergraduate degree from Duke University, and her law degree from the University of North Carolina School of Law. A “big basketball fan,” Judge Hammond graduated from  Duke the same year as Christian Laettner, an “intense, very disliked” athlete who led Duke to two NCAA National Championships.

Judge Hammond enjoyed a broad liberal arts education at Duke.  After receiving her undergraduate degree, she worked for three years before starting law school.  During this period, Judge Hammond worked both at a large mortgage bank, and at a small, general practice law firm in Charlotte.  At the small firm, Judge Hammond had her first experience assisting with a broad array of matters, including personal injury litigation, business transactions, and family law cases.  It was then that Judge Hammond realized that she enjoyed the law, and welcomed the challenge of working on a range of issues, involving a mix of topics and clients.

When asked what brought her to the Bay Area, Judge Hammond’s response can be summed up in one word: love. She met her husband in law school, and he had a job lined up in Fenwick & West’s Palo Alto office after law school.  Believing that her move would be for “two years only,” Judge Hammond took and passed the California Bar, clerked with Bankruptcy Judge Edward Jellen (ret.), and set down new roots with her family in the Bay Area.

Prior to Taking the Bench

Judge Hammond interviewed for her clerkship position with Judge Jellen in the summer before her 3L year, before she had any bankruptcy knowledge or experience. She feels she “lucked” into the position with Judge Jellen, and started her two-year clerkship in Judge Jellen’s chambers after taking the California Bar exam. 

Describing Judge Jellen as “wonderful” and “a pleasure” to work with, Judge Hammond noted that he was very skilled at putting disputes in context.  A very practical judge, Judge Jellen explained to her that the issues resolved in court often represented only the tip of the iceberg. Judge Jellen also would bring counsel into chambers after contested hearings where he saw the parties butting heads, and recommend that they discuss whether a business resolution may be a better idea than having the court decide. Judge Hammond acknowledges that her time in Judge Jellen’s chambers was a “great education,” and helped build the foundation for her judicial values today.

After her clerkship, Judge Hammond spent several years at Murphy Sheneman Julian and Rogers, working closely with partners Pat Murphy, Andrea Porter, and Richard Adler. She felt that it was a tremendous experience for her (and any young lawyer) to learn from those who know what to do in any given situation. Judge Hammond noted that while working at the Murphy Firm she gained valuable insight into how bankruptcy works from the top down, and learned to appreciate that chapter 11 matters are often best resolved by compromise. Judge Hammond remarked that bankruptcy is not necessarily a “zero-sum dispute” as in many cases, parties’ relationships do not end once the case is concluded.

At the Murphy Firm, Judge Hammond had a spectrum of representative experience in chapter 11 cases, representing debtors, secured and unsecured creditors in main case matters and in adversary proceedings. Shortly after Murphy Sheneman merged with Winston & Strawn, Judge Hammond chose small firm life over “big law” and joined several lawyers in a split-off firm, Friedman, Dumas & Springwater.  She stayed at that firm, ultimately becoming a partner, until she took the bench in February 2012. 

Becoming a Judge

Judge Hammond first applied to join the bankruptcy bench when Judge Newsome retired after 28 years.  Observing that Judge Tchaikovsky had been on the bench for 23 years and Judge Jellen, for 25 years, Judge Hammond realized tenures on the Northern California bench tended to be long and felt this was the time to start applying.    Though Judge Hammond did not receive the appointment the first time she applied, the second time was the charm, and she was appointed to replace Judge Jellen.

Judge Hammond described the application process as challenging and she appreciated Andrea Porter’s encouragement and mentoring throughout the process.  In particular, she noted that the panel for the second round of interviews included Court of Appeals Judges and the Chief Bankruptcy Judges.  As Judge Hammond remarked: “They really know how to ask questions.”  Once on the bench, however, Judge Hammond was impressed with how supportive the Ninth Circuit judges are of the bankruptcy bench.

Once she received her appointment, Judge Hammond interviewed other bankruptcy judges to get their advice, and sat in on trials and motion calendars to observe how other judges handled situations.  The other judges were very friendly and supportive of her efforts as a soon-to-be new judge.

On the Bench

Though she thought being a judge would be a good job (“Why else apply?”), Judge Hammond has been pleasantly surprised by how much she really enjoys the job.  Though more isolated than a job in private practice, she finds tremendous satisfaction in working with law clerks and judicial assistants, and appreciates the camaraderie and feedback from other judges, particularly on “close cases.” Rather than “living” a case as she once did as a lawyer, Judge Hammond thrives on her involvement as a judge in numerous matters, some of which have a long history before reaching the bankruptcy court.  While her private practice was focused on business cases and very little consumer work, Judge Hammond has enjoyed the work on chapter 7 and chapter 13 matters and getting to know the attorneys who specialize in a consumer practice.

Judge Hammond enjoys handling trials, the give and take between attorneys, and the testimony of live witnesses.  She noted that she lets counsel try their own case and is unlikely to intervene with her own questions unless she needs testimony to be clarified.

Asked to what extent she may encourage settlement from the bench, Judge Hammond noted that attorneys and parties sometimes lose sight of the fact that a practical solution to a dispute is often a very good resolution. When she thinks parties are listening or appear receptive, or where the parties have a longstanding dispute where the bankruptcy court is new to the dispute, she may encourage parties to discuss a business resolution. 

Pet Peeves

Judge Hammond stresses that attorneys should proofread their court submissions, know their objections, be courteous in their papers, and make their case. She finds that attorneys can sometimes get caught up in attacking the other attorney, or the other party. Judge Hammond noted that such an approach does not help any party’s argument and is very tiresome to the court, as complaining about your opponent does not assist the court in deciding the case.

When asked what she sees developing in terms of the court and the way it handles matters, Judge Hammond noted that after Bankruptcy Judge Arthur S. Weissbrodt retired, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has not filled his position.  Bankruptcy Judge Hannah L. Blumenstiel, seated in San Francisco, is hearing the Salinas chapter 13 cases; and Bankruptcy Judge Dennis Montali, also seated in San Francisco, is taking one-third of all of San Jose’s chapter 7 and chapter 11 cases.   

Judge Hammond remarked that the Northern District is in the process of moving from a group of four divisions to a district with shared practices, procedures and staff. When asked about the volume of bankruptcy cases, Judge Hammond is persuaded that bankruptcy filings will increase and the court will be busier.  However, despite the invitation to play prognosticator, Judge Hammond declined to give a guess as to when that might happen.

Off the Bench  

Judge Hammond enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.  She loves being a parent and actively volunteers in her community, including as Girl Scout leader.

Judge Hammond also loves to travel. In fact, Judge Hammond and her family visited the island nation of New Zealand over the most recent Christmas holiday. Judge Hammond also enjoyed attending the annual Ninth Circuit judicial conference which took place this month in scenic Big Sky, Montana.

When she has a quiet moment to herself, Judge Hammond also loves a good book. She highly recommends All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, the New York bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose lives intertwine in World War II occupied France.  Judge Hammond also enjoys watching movies, having enjoyed both Spotlight and The Big Short.  Finally, drilling down on what’s truly important, Judge Hammond roots for the Duke Blue Devils over the UNC Tar Heels; and she prefers eastern North Carolina-style, vinegar-based BBQ sauce over its western-style tomato-based counterpart. 

This article was written by Monique D. Jewett-Brewster of Hopkins & Carley in San Jose, California (mjb@hopkinscarley.com), Immediate Past Co-Chair of the Insolvency Law Committee, and Stephen D. Finestone of the Law Office of Stephen D. Finestone in San Francisco, California (sfinestone@sfinestone.com), member of the Insolvency Law Committee.

Thank you for your continued support of the Committee.

Best regards,

Insolvency Law Committee

Co-Chair
Leib Lerner
Alston & Bird LLP
Leib.Lerner@alston.com
 
Co-Chair
Corey Weber
Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP
cweber@brutzkusgubner.com
 
Co-Vice Chair
Asa S. Hami
SulmeyerKupetz, A Professional Corporation
ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com
 
Co-Vice Chair
Reno Fernandez
Macdonald Fernandez LLP
Reno@MacFern.com

ILC Judicial Profile Series: United States Bankruptcy Judge Meredith A. Jury (Central District of California) (May 31, 2016)

The following article is the fourth in a series of profiles of Ninth Circuit bankruptcy judges.  Judge Meredith Jury and members of the Insolvency Law Committee met in her chambers and discussed her personal and professional background, observations from the bench, and issues of interest.

Judge Jury is a United States Bankruptcy Judge in the Central District of California, with chambers in the City of Riverside.  She was first appointed to the bench in November 1997, and reappointed in 2011.  She also serves as the Chief Judge of the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP), having been appointed to that Court in 2007 and reappointed in 2014.

Prior to Taking the Bench

Judge Jury received her undergraduate degree in English, with minors in History and Journalism, from the University of Colorado.  After experimenting with teaching, she obtained a law degree from UCLA in 1976.  Following law school, she accepted a job as the first female associate at Best, Best & Krieger, LLP, a Riverside-based firm, where she became a well-respected litigator handling complex litigation cases.  She subsequently became the firm’s first female partner and happily practiced at the firm for over twenty years.

Due to her strong reputation as a litigator, Judge Jury was asked to apply for a newly-created position of United States District Court Judge in Riverside.  While she did not get that assignment, by the time the position of United States Bankruptcy Judge in Riverside became available a short time later, Judge Jury was intrigued.  She applied for and was selected for the position.

The transition from private practice to the bench was easy for Judge Jury.  She says, “I knew what I liked and didn’t like about how courtrooms were run.  I still call my calendar the way Judge Naugle did.”  One thing the judge misses about private practice is having clients.  “I had some great clients, mainly small businesses.  I miss my relationships with these clients.” 

Dual Roles Serving as a Bankruptcy Judge and on the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel

Judge Jury talks of her “day job and night job,” serving as a bankruptcy judge and as a BAP judge.  As she describes it, “my day job is to write novels, and my night job is to review novels….The standard of review is everything on appeal.  I didn’t think of that as a trial judge.”

For the BAP, the judge usually reads the bankruptcy court ruling first and moves backward from there.  She reviews the record on appeal before she reviews the parties’ briefs.  “We get the bench memos one week before oral arguments and independently review them before the oral arguments.  The judges on the panel discuss the cases at dinner the night before.  We like consensus, and feel better about a 3-0 decision.  When there’s a dissent, it’s an intellectual exercise and usually a close call, and we want the Ninth Circuit to review the issue.  It’s the same thing with a concurrence.  It’s a way to get a position in front of the Ninth Circuit.”  After the BAP decides the issue, if there is a further appeal, the Judge comments, “I have an intellectual curiosity as to what the Ninth Circuit will do, but it’s out of my hands.”

Judge Jury is keenly aware that the BAP writes for four audiences: (1) the parties, (2) other bankruptcy judges, (3) the Bar, and (4) the Ninth Circuit.  “We try to make it as persuasive as possible.”  She believes that, with very minor exceptions, judges on the Ninth Circuit understand and respect the value the BAP adds to the bankruptcy appellate process.

Although the judge believes that the BAP’s decisions are important, she agrees that “some bankruptcy judges do not believe they are bound by the BAP’s decisions.  I don’t feel bound by BAP opinions.  The BAP can’t be binding precedent because District Court decisions aren’t binding precedent.  You can’t have one appellate court as precedent and not the other.”  However, the judge also notes that most bankruptcy judges follow BAP opinions.  In fact, she states that, “95% of the time I follow the BAP and cite the BAP.  Most bankruptcy judges do.”

Though she notes that the majority of oral arguments do not affect the outcome of the BAP’s decisions, Judge Jury still believes they are important.  Following oral arguments, BAP panels discuss each case and, a small percentage of the time, pre-oral argument positions change.

On the impact of Stern v. Marshall, the judge states that “it hasn’t changed my day job or night job.  Almost all parties consent to final judgments being entered by the bankruptcy court, even in fraudulent transfer cases.”  Judge Jury believes that district courts look at reports and recommendations from bankruptcy courts differently than appeals from bankruptcy courts, and that the district courts are likely to follow the bankruptcy court’s reports and recommendations.

Observations from the Bench

Judge Jury enjoys her role as a bankruptcy judge, and as a member of the BAP.  “I have the best job in the world.  I get incredible stimulation from my job and learn something new every day.” 

She is very cognizant that each time she rules, it impacts a party.  The judge notes that “the hardest thing to do is rule against a good lawyer when they did a good job for their client but the law or the facts are against them.  I state the tentative ruling orally in court.  It’s hard, but necessary.  It’s more active than a passive written tentative.  I analyze better when I must orally explain my decision, a very active thinking process.”

The judge is well known for presiding over the City of San Bernardino bankruptcy case.  She reflects that, “Chapter 9 is expensive and it’s really a last resort.  There is not really much appellate law on Chapter 9 cases.  It’s mostly bankruptcy court judges opining.”  Judge Jury is pleased with the progress in the San Bernardino case, recognizing that this case could not go more quickly.

While unsure whether the underlying financial issues giving rise to this case have been solved, the judge is happy to see that “there’s a much more organized financial situation now.  A consultant became the city’s chief financial officer and has done a really good job.  It wasn’t easy.”  The judge also thinks that the press coverage of the bankruptcy case has been fair.  “They get it 99% right.  Once in a while they blow it, but they try to get it right.”

The Judge's Chambers and Her Law Clerks

The Judge utilizes technology and does 50% of her reading online, including reading cases on Westlaw.  However, she prints out critical cases for further review.  She comments that she reads the Insolvency Law Committee’s eBulletins on a regular basis, and tracks the new opinions and decisions by the Ninth Circuit and the BAP.  Judge Jury often works from home at night or on weekends.  “I plan ahead to do BAP work offsite and download the key files to my iPad.”

Judge Jury also relies heavily on her law clerks.  Part of the judge’s process for preparing for oral arguments on appeal is to see if she can persuade her BAP law clerk to agree with her position.  “I have a great BAP law clerk, Kitty Kruis, who used to work for Judge Hargrove and has been a clerk since 1991.  She’s always one step ahead of me, because she gets to read the appellate briefs before I do.  We don’t always agree.  If I haven’t convinced Kitty by the time of the oral argument, I have to reconsider whether my position is right or wrong.”

The judge views her present and past law clerks as part of her family.  “I know where they all are in their careers.”  The judge also officiated at five of her law clerks’ weddings.  Judge Jury reflects that “I would be delighted if any of my law clerks became a judge.  You never know.  Being a judge wasn’t in my career path.”

The Judge's Interests

Judge Jury is a sports enthusiast.  “I’m a pre-Title IX person.  My mom played tennis and I’ve always liked sports.”  The judge enjoys watching NCAA women’s basketball the best.  She also enjoys regularly working out and watching basketball games at the gym.  The judge is an avid biker and hiker, having hiked the Grand Canyon and taken bicycle trips all over the United States. 

The Judge plans to retire within the next two years, after the San Bernardino bankruptcy case concludes and she has completed her term on the BAP.  Prior to being appointed to the BAP, the judge was on the Riverside Mayor’s Commission on Aging.  In retirement, she plans to volunteer to help seniors, focusing on senior financial abuse issues.  “I care about the senior population and want to use my skills to help.”  Judge Jury does not see herself ever slowing down, even in retirement.  “I like to keep busy.  I like challenges.”

This article was written by Corey R. Weber (cweber@brutzkusgubner.com), a partner at Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP and Co-Chair of the Insolvency Law Committee (ILC); Uzzi O. Raanan, a partner at Danning, Gill, Diamond & Kollitz, LLP, Vice-Chair of the California State Bar’s Business Law Section and Past Co-Chair of the ILC (uraanan@dgdk.com); Leib Lerner, a partner at Alston & Bird LLP and Co-Chair of the ILC (Leib.Lerner@alston.com); and Asa S. Hami, an attorney at SulmeyerKupetz, APC and Co Vice-Chair of the ILC (ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com).

Thank you for your continued support of the Committee.

Best regards,

Insolvency Law Committee

Co-Chair
Leib Lerner
Alston & Bird LLP
Leib.Lerner@alston.com
 
Co-Chair
Corey Weber
Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP
cweber@brutzkusgubner.com
 
Co-Vice Chair
Asa S. Hami
SulmeyerKupetz, A Professional Corporation
ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com
 
Co-Vice Chair
Reno Fernandez
Macdonald Fernandez LLP
Reno@MacFern.com

ILC Judicial Profile Series: United States Bankruptcy Judge Ernest M. Robles (Central District of California) (May 12, 2016)

The following article is a profile of the Honorable Ernest M. Robles – the third in a series of profiles of Ninth Circuit bankruptcy judges. Judge Robles and members of the Insolvency Law Committee met in his chambers and discussed his personal and professional background, observations from the bench, and issues of interest.

The Judge’s Hometown and Education

Judge Robles was born in Mexico and was raised in San Francisco. As Judge Robles remarked, “in those days, San Francisco was a workingman’s town”—a town he regards as home, which explains his love for the Giants despite having chambers that overlook Dodgers stadium.

Judge Robles always wanted to be a lawyer and was interested in public service. After graduating from high school, Judge Robles attended the University of California at Berkeley—receiving a degree in political science. Following his graduation from Berkeley, Judge Robles attended the University of Michigan for law school, an experience that made him a fan of Michigan football. As he recalled, “at Michigan, we didn’t have a choice. The Big House was the place where all your friends were.”

Prior to Taking the Bench

After graduating from the University of Michigan, Judge Robles returned to the bay area to begin his career as a litigation associate with Musick Peeler & Garrett LLP. Over the following years, Judge Robles litigated a wide range of matters from maritime to insurance bad faith cases, and tried numerous cases before juries, which he commented was a “wonderful experience.” Judge Robles recalled one case in particular—a case that shaped one of his views on his role in the cases pending before him to this day. In his first jury trial, the judge kept calling Judge Robles into his chambers after each day of trial. On each occasion, the presiding judge would tell him that he had a terrible case and was going to lose, and pressed Judge Robles to explore settlement. Judge Robles, however, did not buckle under the pressure and pressed forward with litigation. Ultimately, Judge Robles obtained a jury verdict in favor of his client. After the trial concluded, the judge once again brought Judge Robles back to his chambers and told him “never let a judge tell you how to try your case”—advice Judge Robles continues to follow now that he is the judge.

After several years as a big firm litigator, Judge Robles saw an advertisement for a position with the newly-formed Office of the United States Trustee (UST). Despite minimal bankruptcy experience, Judge Robles saw the position as an opportunity to pursue his interest in public service.

Due to his extensive litigation and trial experience, the UST hired Judge Robles as an Assistant United States Trustee. Judge Robles recounted that they liked that he was quick on his feet. Over the following years, Judge Robles represented the UST in a wide array of cases, including some of the largest cases in the Northern District. Ultimately, Judge Robles was elevated to the head of the San Jose office of the UST.

During his time with the UST, Judge Robles learned a great deal that helped him develop his judicial style. As he recalled, “I saw how judges ran cases, learned how they governed the courtroom and how they read pleadings. I also got up-to-speed on bankruptcy law.” After eight years as an Assistant United States Trustee, Judge Robles began pursuing his goal of becoming a judge. “Being a judge is a calling. It fit my personality. I wanted to settle disputes and be of some help.” In 1993, Judge Robles was appointed to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, Los Angeles Division, where he has served since his appointment.

Observations from the Bench

Over the past 23 years, Judge Robles has carried his desire to serve the public into his courtroom—focusing on giving every party a full and fair opportunity to present their case and “have their day in court.” Ideals of equity and fairness influence his actions daily and, more importantly, his treatment of parties and attorneys appearing in his courtroom. During this time, Judge Robles has also developed certain preferences for attorneys practicing in his courtroom.

Pleadings

Judge Robles places a great deal of emphasis on written pleadings. He considers a motion submitted once he receives all of the pleadings and believes it is unfair to make new arguments after a motion has been fully briefed. The judge prepares detailed tentative rulings that discuss the pleadings filed and how the court intends to rule. He believes that “it is good for everyone to have the court’s feelings out there for parties to respond to, and it is good for the reviewing court.” The judge is not often swayed by arguments at hearings, and usually only if counsel can show that the court was incorrect in the analysis of a case, or if the argument is policy driven. “The tradition of the court is written advocacy, but being able to answer questions is noticeable and terrific.”

As for technical or stylistic aspects of the pleadings, the judge looks for brevity in briefs, and often looks to the reply brief first. As Judge Robles remarked, “the reply brief boils everything down in a cogent fashion.” Judge Robles also looks for good organization in briefs and for briefs to argue the big points.

Civility

Judge Robles believes civility in the profession is very important. The judge reflected that the bankruptcy community “is a small community. You see the same faces again and again. Be civil and give a break to the other side. You’ll need a break sometime.” He continued that “there’s nothing wrong with being an aggressive advocate and being civil. Not being personal, being above board. Being an attorney is tough enough without having to worry about opposing counsel knocking you in the back.”

While he recognizes advocacy can create extraneous disputes, Judge Robles believes that interpersonal disputes or gamesmanship only serve as distractions to the issues presented. As Judge Robles remarked, “interpersonal disputes and lack of civility are just static.” Judge Robles wants to render a decision on the merits of a dispute.

Not surprisingly, this perspective carries-over into his view on motions under Rule 9011 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. When discussing this point, the judge asked: “Do you really want to bring a 9011 motion if there is another way to bring the issue before the court and have the court resolve it?” Quoting Abraham Lincoln, the judge instead calls on the “better angels” of the attorneys to conduct themselves in a professional manner and, thereby, resolve such matters without court intervention. That being said, if court intervention is required to end obstreperous or contemptable conduct, Judge Robles will not hesitate to maintain civility and order in the matters pending before his court.

Honesty with the Court

Judge Robles also encourages attorneys not to try to hide the ball from the judge. “If you know the answer is out there and dodge, the court loses confidence in that attorney. Attorneys have reputations and you shouldn’t do anything that would damage your reputation. Clients come and go, but once you lose your reputation, it’s hard to get it back. I put a lot of stock in attorneys being officers of the court. That’s what I expect. We’re all part of a process that’s bigger than ourselves.”

The Judge’s Chambers

In chambers, Judge Robles embraces his affinity for technology and mentorship.

As to the former, Judge Robles has incorporated technology in his chambers in multiple respects. “I try to be paperless. I take extensive notes and then pdf them.” With paperless filings, the judge reviews and annotates orders on computers, and tries to turn around orders as quickly as possible. The tentative ruling is always part of the order. “I like the use of technology during hearings and trials. I wish we had better technology in the courtroom. Now you can refer to exhibits on digital pads. Binders and binders of exhibits are stone age stuff.” One area where the judge relies on older technology is hard copies of the case reporters. While his clerks often use Westlaw, the judge prefers the hard copy books.

As to the latter, Judge Robles views his clerkship program as an important aspect of the court and has a great deal of respect for the role of a law clerk in his chambers. The judge has two law clerks, one term clerk and one career clerk. “It is one of the most difficult jobs out of law school. It is a steep learning curve.” He notes that “I’ve never had a clerk that was not up to the challenge. Some clerks feel the stress more and the ramping up time differs.” Once the judge gets a comfort level on his clerks’ abilities, he and his clerks work closely together. “It’s like MASH. Radar and the Colonel finished each other’s thoughts.”

As he spoke of his current and former clerks, it became clear that Judge Robles cares deeply about his law clerks, noting that “the greatest feeling of accomplishment is my relationship with my law clerks. How they impacted me and how I impacted them. Also how they now give guidance to people working for them.”

Life Outside of the Court

Judge Robles has five children and has been married to his wife for more than 30 years. In speaking of his family, Judge Robles recalled challenges resolving disputes outside the courtroom, including his youngest son’s affinity for video games when it is at odds with his need to study and practice the cello. As in the courtroom, Judge Robles received arguments on the benefit of the Minecraft video game, which his son contended is educational because it is about “economics…supply and demand.” Although he respected the argument, Judge Robles was not persuaded and his son lost the motion for additional video game time. “You have to put limits,” Judge Robles remarked.

In addition to his family, Judge Robles has a love for music—an appreciation that began as a child and grew as a performer in his younger years. Judge Robles commented that “performing gives you a different perspective on listening to music.” As a former performer, it is no surprise that he enjoys live performances and is a regular attendee of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Judge Robles also noted that sometimes he will fly somewhere just to see a concert. As Judge Robles put it: “It’s different live. Recorded music is too perfect and antiseptic. If you go to a performance, you see the interactions between the performers and the interaction with the audience.”

This article was written by Corey R. Weber (cweber@brutzkusgubner.com), a partner at Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP and Co-Chair of the Insolvency Law Committee, and Michael Delaney (mdelaney@bakerlaw.com), an attorney at BakerHostetler LLP and member of the Insolvency Law Committee.

Thank you for your continued support of the Committee.

Best regards,

Insolvency Law Committee

Co-Chair
Leib Lerner
Alston & Bird LLP
Leib.Lerner@alston.com

Co-Chair
Corey Weber
Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP
cweber@brutzkusgubner.com

Co-Vice Chair
Asa S. Hami
SulmeyerKupetz, A Professional Corporation
ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com

Co-Vice Chair
Reno Fernandez
Macdonald Fernandez LLP
Reno@MacFern.com

ILC Judicial Profile Series: United States Bankruptcy Judge Martin R. Barash (Central District of California) (February 23, 2016)

Personal and Professional Background

United States Bankruptcy Judge Martin R. Barash was sworn in on March 26, 2015, and assigned to serve in the Woodland Hills branch of the Central District of California.  He feels as though he won the lottery, both in terms of his new judicial role and the location of his chambers.  Indeed, Judge Barash may be the first Woodland Hills-based judge to have grown up locally. 

Judge Barash attended Taft High School in Woodland Hills, received his undergraduate degree at Princeton University, and law degree at the UCLA School of Law.  Following law school, he worked at two well-respected Los Angeles bankruptcy boutique firms, Stutman, Treister & Glatt P.C. and Klee, Tuchin, Bogdanoff & Stern, LLP.  He also taught for a year at California State University Northridge.

The judge sees his new role as an opportunity to serve the community.  His parents worked as fundraisers for various Jewish community service organizations.  During junior high and high school, Judge Barash got involved with Junior State of America, a national organization formed in 1934 with the mission of “educating and preparing high school students for life-long involvement and responsible leadership in a democratic society.”  In his senior year of high school, Judge Barash was elected governor of the Southern California Junior State, and has remained involved with the organization ever since.  He is the Immediate Past President of the Junior Statesmen Foundation.

He has served on various professional organization boards, including the LA Bankruptcy Forum and the American Bankruptcy Institute, among others, and volunteered at the debtor Reaffirmation Clinic run by Public Counsel.

Judge Barash is a busy father of three children ages 13, 11 and 8, and proudly points out that “being a parent helped me prepare to be a judge.  It helped me learn patience.”  In his free time, he is an amateur photographer, mostly documenting his children and travels.  He also loves to cook and garden.

Transition to the Bench and Judicial Style

Judge Barash appears to have made an easy transition from private practice to the bench.  His wife tells him that he is more calm now than when he was in private practice.  He agrees, noting that, “both of the law firms I worked for had an intellectual rigor and expectation that the work had to be excellent all the time,” and that they were “intense environments.”  He adds, as a judge, “I no longer have to worry about where the next client is coming from, or pleasing a demanding client.  It is less stressful.”

Judge Barash agrees that being a judge “is a little isolating”.  However, while “I gave up the camaraderie of my former partners and associates, I gained wonderful new colleagues.”  The judge often walks down the hall to talk with the other judges.  He is effusive when talking about his fellow jurists at the Woodland Hills courthouse, whom he clearly admires greatly.

The judge reveals that he likes to hone his rulings by talking through issues, and is in his law clerks’ offices several times a day to discuss various cases.  It’s an ongoing dialogue because he both wants his law clerks to learn from each case and to have them challenge and identify any holes in his reasoning.  “I learn something new every day,” he professes.  Despite his interest in exploring unusual legal issues, he also tries to be practical in how he approaches his cases.

Judge Barash tries to create an environment where his two law clerks, Enid M. Colson and Ahree Song, feel comfortable expressing their views freely.  He has one of his law clerks observe all court hearings, take notes, keep track of rulings and make observations.  “My clerks take the laboring oars,” he says.

Judge Barash states that he has a reasonably sized docket, but does not yet have a point of reference.  Although some rulings are taken under submission, he tries to announce his rulings at the hearings, commenting, “I don’t want to be the guy who falls behind.”

The Judge’s View of Attorneys Appearing Before Him

Although the judge knows and has worked with many Los Angeles bankruptcy attorneys, not many of them have appeared before him yet.  For attorneys who do, he focuses on the facts and the law and tries not to be influenced by what he knows about their personalities and styles.  Judge Barash tries to keep biases in mind, commenting that “it is the unexamined bias that is dangerous.” 

There are challenges that he did not foresee.  For example, “what does a judge do when an attorney misses an argument or doesn’t do as good a job as you might do?  Do you punish the lawyer’s client or find a way to get to justice?”  Judge Barash’s style is to sort through and test the arguments to get to the right answer.

Advice to Attorneys Appearing Before Judge Barash

When asked whether he models his judicial style on a specific judge, Judge Barash reveals that he looks to many judges whom he admires.  He singles out the Honorable William J. Lasarow, a former bankruptcy judge in the Central District of California, stating that, “he exemplified open-mindedness, had an innate sense of getting parties to a place that is reasonable, was gentlemanly, and I thought the world of him.” 

The judge has not yet filled out the Judicial Practices Survey, but advises attorneys to “be more familiar with the local rules and what they require, the sometimes overlooked need for evidence, and paying attention to service issues.”  He emphasizes that he, “takes service issues very seriously, especially where there is no opposition filed.  There must be due process.”  Judge Barash reviewed most of the courtroom procedures followed by other judges in the Central District and took the parts that he thought would work best in his courtroom.  “I try to improve customer service” through the courtroom procedures.

The judge does not always issue tentative rulings in advance of hearings, and he sometimes states the tentative only after taking the bench.  He posts a tentative when the issues are clear or when the answer has crystalized in his mind before the hearing.  Judge Barash likes having a dialogue with attorneys in his courtroom. 

Although he often sticks to his tentative rulings, he sees oral argument as a valuable part of the process, and has been swayed by oral arguments on occasion.  Such courtroom dialogue often tests the judge’s analysis of the issues, often confirming his pre-hearing analysis.

One procedure where Judge Barash may diverge from the majority of Central District bankruptcy judges is the use of direct testimony by declaration, as opposed to live testimony.  He notes that “the default rule is direct testimony by declaration, but I have seen in my practice the value of live testimony.  Witness credibility is easier to assess in person.”  The judge comments that “declarations streamline what we do but there are also virtues to live testimony.”

On settlement, the judge reflects that “the fastest way to settlement discussions is to set a trial date.  Part of my job is to encourage settlement.”

Judge Barash is cognizant of the costs associated with the bankruptcy process, and the barriers these costs can pose to gaining access to justice.  It is clear that the judge views his role as part of a larger landscape of improving government through dedicated service.  “People these days don’t feel like government listens to them,” he says.  “I feel like the one thing I can do is listen to people with respect and have them know that they’ve been heard.  The strength of institutions is directly related to the esteem in which people hold them.”  He concludes by stating, “this is the world’s greatest job.  I can really make a difference one person at a time.  It’s an incredible gift, privilege and honor.”

This e-Bulletin was written by Corey R. Weber, a partner at Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP in Woodland Hills, California and Co-Chair of the ILC (cweber@brutzkusgubner.com), Uzzi O. Raanan, partner at Danning, Gill, Diamond & Kollitz, LLP in Los Angeles, California, Vice Chair of the California State Bar’s Business Law Section and past Co-Chair of the ILC (uraanan@dgdk.com), and Asa S. Hami, an attorney at SulmeyerKupetz, A Professional Corporation in Los Angeles, California and Co-Vice Chair of the ILC (ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com).   
 
Thank you for your continued support of the Committee.
 
Best regards,
 
Insolvency Law Committee
 
Co-Chair
Leib Lerner
Alston & Bird LLP
Leib.Lerner@alston.com
 
Co-Chair
Corey Weber
Brutzkus Gubner Rozansky Seror Weber LLP
cweber@brutzkusgubner.com
 
Co-Vice Chair
Asa S. Hami
SulmeyerKupetz, A Professional Corporation
ahami@sulmeyerlaw.com
 
Co-Vice Chair
Reno Fernandez
Macdonald Fernandez LLP
Reno@MacFern.com

ILC Judicial Profile Series: United States Bankruptcy Judge Neil W. Bason (Central District of California) (July 28, 2015)

The following is the first in a new series of profiles of 9th Circuit bankruptcy judges.  Judge Neil W. Bason and members of the Insolvency Law Committee met in his chambers and discussed his personal and professional background, transition to the bench and other issues of interest.

Judge Bason was appointed to the bench in the Central District of California, Los Angeles Division, in October 2011.  Prior to his appointment, he was special counsel at Duane Morris LLP and at Howard Rice Nemerovski Canady Falk & Rabkin, P.C., and served as law clerk to the Honorable Dennis Montali, United States Bankruptcy Judge in the Northern District of California and Chief Judge of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit.

Home, Travels and Influences

Judge Bason grew up in Washington, D.C., and spent a year during college living in London.  His chambers reflect his hometown and travels, with pictures and paintings of the Jefferson Memorial, London and a historic mill.

The Jefferson Memorial is one of Judge Bason’s favorite places to visit, and he is still influenced by a childhood visit to Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home.  Judge Bason enjoys studying history, and particularly about some of the men and women who had the greatest influences on the development of this nation.  Reflecting that Thomas Jefferson designed an innovative clock and George Washington built a circular barn to exercise cows, Judge Bason notes that, “Jefferson and Washington were enlightenment men with character.  They were trying to push the envelope, and I admire that.”  The Judge is currently reading Abraham Lincoln’s complete works on his Kindle.

Life Before the Bench

Prior to taking the bench, Judge Bason was a dedicated member of the ILC, serving as Co-Vice Chair and, briefly, Co-Chair.  His term as ILC Co-Chair was cut short when he was appointed to the bench.  One of his favorite activities as a practitioner was brainstorming legal issues with colleagues and interacting with smart and experienced attorneys.  In fact, he is an unabashed fan of the ILC and believes that the ILC is a great place for insolvency practitioners to share their ideas, as he found members of the committee to be “collaborative, interactive, and of high character.”  He appreciated the energy and enthusiasm exhibited by ILC members.

Judge Bason believes that he was “incredibly lucky” to have a great variety of experiences in private practice.  Looking back at his time as a lawyer, he points to a couple of lessons and tips for young and experienced attorneys: (1) the importance of accepting responsibility early in one’s career, learning as much as possible, and taking calculated chances, and ultimately learning from inevitable mistakes; and (2) the importance of having a balanced life, personally and professionally.  He did not always follow his own advice – for example, he wishes that he had taken more chances early on – but looking back he believes he learned the most when he made himself do that.  Judge Bason is very thankful to Judge Montali, who mentored him and gave him exposure to a wide variety of issues arising in bankruptcy law. 

Transition to the Bench

While the transition from Bar to bench is never easy, Judge Bason’s appointment also meant a move from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where his social and professional networks were much more limited.  Judge Bason, though, found the Central District bankruptcy judges to be very collegial and welcoming, making the transition easier than he had imagined.  Members of the Bar may be surprised to know that bankruptcy judges often get together for activities like architectural walking tours around Downtown, hikes in local hills and mountains, and performances at the Hollywood Bowl.

However, being a judge can also be isolating.  Judge Bason noted that, “whereas in private practice after a great argument in court you can take your opposing counsel out to lunch, you cannot do the same as a judge.”

Speaking of not being isolated, Judge Bason recently participated in the traditional CBF "game show" hosted by Chief Judge Sheri Bluebond.  This year the program was called "The Bankruptcy Bachelor," and Judge Bason is very grateful to Judge Bluebond and the other participants for their sense of humor and being exceptionally good sports.

Judge Bason’s interest in technology has clearly influenced how he approaches his role as a judge.  While many law firms are slowly transitioning to a paperless office, Judge Bason has already implemented virtually paperless chambers.  He logs into the Court’s computer system from home, and has access to the pleadings online.  He does not review hard copies unless the pleadings have not yet made it to the docket, such as with some pro se parties, or if there are a lot of tabs and exhibits.  For pleadings, he makes PDF copies and writes notes electronically in Adobe Acrobat, or types notes in a separate document referring to key parts of the pleadings.  In fact, Judge Bason notes that were it not for his law clerks’ preferences, he would have done away with the paper courtesy copy requirement in his courtroom.

The Judge tries to give detailed tentative rulings prior to oral arguments, and expects counsel to address the relevant issues he identified.  He does not try to hide the ball on the issues that he wants counsel to address.  Although he likes to engage attorneys at oral argument, and does so more than the average Bankruptcy Judge, sometimes he feels compelled to hold back and let the attorneys raise the issues that they believe are important.  Despite his active discussion with counsel, he fairly often refrains from raising additional issues that he has discussed with his law clerks because no party has raised them.

As a result of his experience in private practice, the Judge tries to move cases along in a timely manner.  He frowns on needless procedural delays and has recently cracked down on some attorneys who consistently file late or frivolous pleadings.  If an issue needs time to develop, then he will let that happen, but he makes every effort not to allow a case to linger needlessly.  For example, in chapter 13 cases he sets confirmation hearings early and in small chapter 11 cases he usually requires the use of forms and sets a combined hearing on final approval of a disclosure statement and confirmation of a plan.  He notes, however, that “The Bankruptcy Code gets thicker and thicker and there are now procedural issues such as Stern v. Marshall.”  The procedural issues add to the time and money involved in bankruptcy cases, which is especially burdensome for individual parties.

Judge Bason understands life as a practitioner, including the importance of fee applications, and tries to remember that he does not see what transpires outside of the courtroom.  He observed that what he sees as a judge may not be the whole picture.  “The end result may look simple, but may not be, and I try to be respectful of that.”  He comments that “someone can be a complete jerk during discovery and then act differently before the judge.” 

He also understands that “reputation is everything.”  It is especially critical in a small professional community like the Bankruptcy Bar.  As a result, unlike among general litigators, one finds that in the Bankruptcy Bar there is generally more civility and a need to choose your battles.  The Judge notes that an attorney who is not honest with the Court or who makes clearly frivolous arguments, risks having his pleadings read with extra scrutiny by judges who no longer trust that attorney’s factual or legal representations.  He is quick to clarify, though, that in his experience both on and off the bench judges go out of their way to avoid bias in reviewing pleadings, and if anything bend over backwards to be careful when dealing with an attorney who has lost the Court's trust and always consider all the arguments presented by all sides to a dispute.

Life in Los Angeles

Judge Bason has nothing but praise for his newly-adopted hometown.  He is an avid bicycle rider and enjoys the city’s cultural offerings.  He regularly rides his bike to work, as well as along scenic bike paths and Griffith Park.  He has even ridden his bike from Los Angeles to San Diego on several occasions, an 11- to 14-hour ride. 

In addition to biking, Judge Bason enjoys Los Angeles’ cultural scene, including the large number of quality museums such as the Peterson, LACMA, Norton Simon, the Getty, and others.  If he could split his time between his favorite cities, he would live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, London and Paris.

Observations from the Bench

Judge Bason believes that part of his responsibility as a judge is to give back by taking in externs and training them to become good bankruptcy lawyers.  “You are fortunate if the externs give back more than they receive, but that misses the point—it is a public service to train them.”

In an attempt to bring innovation and cost savings to the bankruptcy process, Judge Bason spearheaded a judge’s group to revise the model plan and disclosure statement for smaller chapter 11 cases.  Judge Bason, with the help of financial advisor Brad Smith, programmed an automated spreadsheet that attempts to simplify the process for creating a plan and disclosure statement.  Once basic information is filled in, the spreadsheet program automatically populates other required fields, including various necessary calculations.  He calls it a “labor of love” that he is in the process of revising and then would like to take on the road and introduce to bankruptcy practitioners and courts alike.  Judge Bason believes that for some over-sized chapter 13 cases that are required to go into chapter 11, a chapter 11 is too expensive and the spreadsheet may help reduce costs.  The spreadsheet may also help small business debtors with their chapter 11 cases.  Judge Bason’s spreadsheet is already available on the Central District of California Bankruptcy Court’s website at: http://www.cacb.uscourts.gov/forms/chapter-11-plan.  As noted by the Judge, not all judges permit the use of the spreadsheet, and you should check each judge’s local rules.

Judge Bason is very mindful of the current challenging environment for bankruptcy practitioners.  He doubts that there is going to be a change anytime soon with the reality that large cases are more often than not filed in Delaware and New York, instead of California.  “It’s become something people are used to.  Not many large cases will be filed here, and that’s unfortunate.”  The Judge also recognizes that we’re living in unusual economic times, where we’re experiencing a “non-recovery recovery, with things just puttering along.”  This is “a tough spot for practitioners.”

This article was written by Corey R. Weber, a partner at Ezra Brutzkus Gubner LLP and Co-Vice Chair of the ILC, Uzzi O. Raanan, a partner at Danning, Gill, Diamond & Kollitz, LLP, a past ILC Co-Chair and a member of the Executive Committee of the California State Bar’s Business Law Section, and Asa S. Hami, an attorney at SulmeyerKupetz, A Professional Corporation, and Secretary of the ILC.

Thank you for your continued support of the Committee.

Best regards,

Insolvency Law Committee