College Columns Dec 2014 Issue - Page 6

Highlighting

Southern

Bankruptcy

Practitioners

Hon. Joyce Bihary, Archives Committee Co-Chair

two oral histories of important bankruptcy practitioners in the South, Samuel J. Zusmann, Jr. and Morton P. Levine. Taken by Retired Bankruptcy Judge Joyce Bihary and Bankruptcy Judge Paul Bonapfel, these interviews are colorful and provide a window into bankruptcy practice in the South in the 1950’s and beyond.

Sam and Morton graduated from the University of Georgia Law School in the 1950’s (Morton in 1953, Sam in 1954) and each has practiced law for over 60 years! Both served in the military and that experience impacted them in different ways. Morton trained as a rifleman in the summer of 1945. While marching in the Florida heat as he observed a lieutenant riding in a jeep, a light opened up as he said to himself “I am not gonna be a foot soldier the rest of my life; I’m going to be riding in that jeep”. Sam enlisted in the Army and had the sobering and difficult job of burying men who came back from Korea.

Their oral histories describe the extreme informality of bankruptcy practice in the 1950’s and 1960’s (from Sam “The Rules of Evidence meant nothing in those days”.) They also cover the manner in which trustees were selected under the Bankruptcy Act, the formation of the Southeastern Bankruptcy Law Institute in the 1970’s (both were on the initial Board of Directors), and memories of practice with Morris Macey and other stalwarts of the bankruptcy bar.

Both gentlemen have always exuded enthusiasm over the practice of bankruptcy law, some of which stems from the variety of industries and unusual personalities they have had to deal with in the course of their long careers. Morton’s practice included dealing with Jimmy Venable, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, (a “terrible, awful man”) and travelling to Moldova to meet with officials over an asset he was trying to administer as a trustee. Although Sam was involved in a great many sophisticated matters, in his early career, his practice required him to learn about pig farming in Georgia and what to do when the collateral for a loan included alligators in Florida.

Sam practiced law with Bob Lipshutz who was the treasurer of Jimmy Carter’s 1976 presidential campaign, and he has distinct recollections of a telephone call between Morris Macey and Mr. Lipshutz (Bobby) regarding whether President Carter should sign the new bankruptcy law in 1978. Minutes after it was signed, Bobby called Sam and Sam alerted Ralph Kelly, bankruptcy judge in Tennessee, who alerted the bench throughout the nation.

You won’t want to miss the descriptions of bankruptcy judges from long ago— from Sam Zusmann:

Ellis Mundy was a wonderful man. There is a story about him during the thirties when the price of cotton went to the bottom and some congressman supposedly rose on the floors of Congress and proclaimed, "We can solve this problem if we just plow under every third row of cotton." And Ellis Mundy wrote an op-ed piece that said, "We’d be better off if we just plowed under every third congressman."

And we have the sage advice from Atlanta part time bankruptcy referee Buster Bird (think Alston and Bird) --again from Sam Zusmann’s recollection of a story told by one of Judge Bird’s partners:

[O]ne day Buster was having lunch with a group of summer clerks. We didn't call them summer associates then, we called them summer clerks. And they were asking him questions about the practice of law and as I heard the story, Buster said, "there's going to come a time in your career when you're going to lose a case. You may lose it because the other attorney knows the facts better than you do, he may know the law better

There have been many additions to the National Bankruptcy Archives in 2014, including two

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