College Columns May 2015 Issue - Page 8

National Bankruptcy Archives

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Adam Rosen took the oral history of Judge Eisenberg (retired after 24 years from the Eastern District of New York), and prepared the following to give you a taste of the interview with this thoughtful and gracious judge.

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Dorothy Eisenberg: Trailblazer for Women Bankruptcy Lawyers and Judges

Excerpts from a National Bankruptcy Archives interview taken by Adam L. Rosen on December 18, 2013

Dorothy Eisenberg entered Brooklyn Law School at age 18 and graduated in 1950. In 1951, she was one of the first women lawyers at the law firm of Otterbourg, Steindler, Houston & Rosen in New York City. She left Otterbourg to raise a family, and then returned to practice to become a chapter 7 trustee, and then a bankruptcy judge. In 2014, after 24 years on the bench, she retired.

At Otterbourg, I was in the back office, and I think I was the only woman lawyer at the time. That may have been why they hired me, I don’t know, as just a symbol possibly. But it wasn’t an era when women were promulgated into the forefront. And in fact, I was never sent or intended to be sent to court, and I was strictly in the background to do what is now being done by law clerks.

After leaving the law for many years to raise a family, Judge Eisenberg joined the law firm of Goldman Horowitz & Cherno which was located closer to her home. She worked for Jacob Goldman, an experienced bankruptcy lawyer.

When I interviewed with him, I told him that not only did I not know bankruptcy, and that they didn’t even offer a course when I was in Brooklyn Law School. He thoroughly understood and said that he did not really expect that I would know bankruptcy, but that I would be able to read the statute, and he would help. He said that my observation in court would enable me to learn, and he hired me.

I was his only assistant, and he had stopped really appearing in court. So I was the messenger. At that time, the large firms did not do bankruptcy. His firm was what we call a “boutique” bankruptcy firm. This was the era of the firm Levin & Weintraub. I very often was in court representing creditors, and wound up representing creditors’ committees. And being in the courtroom, I did learn by observing and by studying the statute.

Although no one said anything, I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was female. And you didn’t see many females in bankruptcy court at that time.

The trustees were appointed by the judge – the referees at the time. And Judge Radoyevich appointed me as a trustee in a case because I was often in his court. In fact, I tried a case before him, and he ruled against my client, and it was subsequently taken up to the Supreme Court, and he was reversed. He said to me that he had never been reversed before, but that I had done a good job. He always was able to acknowledge whoever appeared before him, whether they did a good job or they didn’t.

[I worked on] the Totem Homes case which was before Judge [Tina] Brozman. She was a fine judge. I think that she left everyone with a very good impression that women can do the same job as men.

Then [U.S. District] Judge Platt in Brooklyn called me. I had never really met him or appeared before him, but that was the era when the district court really appointed the judges. He called me one day and asked me if I knew that there was this opening and whether I was interested in applying.

At this point, I had not intended to apply, and because I had applied previously and it wound up being very disappointing with no feedback. I said, “I didn’t expect to apply,” and he said that the reason I’m calling you is I want to know if you would apply. Otherwise, I’m setting up a committee, and I was going to name you the chair of the interviewing committee for prospective candidates. But I really think you ought to apply. You’ve appeared before many of our judges, and it would probably be a good idea.

I said I didn’t think so – this was at a time when I think the judge’s salary was $77,000 a year, and as I said, I had four children either in college or graduate schools and was finally making some money. But he kept saying, “Well, you really ought to discuss it with

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