An era passed before my eyes in Cleveland Bankruptcy Court. Some barely noticed it. Others are glad it’s happened. Marvin Sicherman is retired. He will no longer be sitting as a chapter 7 trustee in Cleveland. His law firm is dissolving as well. Is he leaving the game?
Marvin claims to have sat as a chapter 7 trustee longer than anyone else in the country. I have no way to easily verify this. What I can tell you is that when I started in bankruptcy practice Marvin was already there. I’ve been doing this 20 years.
As a new bankruptcy attorney for some reason it seemed my all my cases were assigned to one of two chapter 7 trustees. First was Saul Eisen who at the time was the most senior trustee in the country. The other was Marvin Sicherman, his runner up in seniority. I always thought Marvin hated me. Many lawyers still feel the same.
This went on until one winter day. It was one of those Cleveland days the outside temperature was in the minus twenties, not counting wind chill. At the time, I had a down snorkel parka that I bought a size too big to wear over a suit. If you don’t know what a snorkel parka is, think Kenny in South Park. I arrived at the meeting room in the then BP building early for a creditor meeting. The heat was not working well in the meeting room. I kept my coat on with the hood pulled over my head. Marvin was doing creditor meetings. I was pretty much in the zone. I did not so much hear what Marvin was saying as how he was saying it. Often, something caused me to chuckle under my hood.
Eventually I decided to see if my client was in the outer waiting area. I flipped my hood back to see Marvin Sicherman looking at me with a wide grin. He said, “Balena,” that’s what he’s always called me, “you finally figured it all out.” You see, Marvin Sicherman has a great sense of humor. In Yiddish humor, the joke is not so much what is said, but how it is said. Under my hood I was hearing the how and not the what.
In my second year at law school I shared an apartment with a law student who was also an Orthodox Rabbi. I kept a kosher kitchen, and learned much of his culture, including the humor. My relationship with Mr. Sicherman changed that day. I no longer feared having him assigned as the case trustee for a chapter 7 client, I looked forward to the experience. Don’t think having Marvin Sicherman was all jokes and giggles. The man is incredibly knowledgeable about bankruptcy law and practice. Having him as a trustee taught me more about bankruptcy that any seminar.
I want to relate an experience I had on a case in 2014. There was an issue about how much of a client’s funds on deposit in a bank were exempt and protected from creditor claims when the exempt funds were mixed with other non exempt funds. Marvin called me which was unusual in itself because he preferred email, not bad for a guy in his 80s.
He said, “I’m going to file a motion for turnover of the funds because I know the law.”
I replied, “I know the law too. In fact, I recently published an article in the Lorain County Legal Times. I fought this same issue with other trustees and won each time. Those were empty victories. Winning against you in court would mean the world to me.”
He did not file the motion. The battle never happened.
I had the good fortune of having a creditor meeting with him his final week. You might think he would be a bit mellow his last day. Not Marv. Everything was business as usual. Until the end. I stood and shook his hand. I expressed how much he meant to me in my growth as a bankruptcy attorney. I wished him well.
In classic Marvin fashion he replied, “there’s a whole room full of attorneys out there who don’t share your feelings.”
Maybe so, but they never took the step to meet the man. Too bad.
He will no longer sit as a trustee. His law firm is closing its doors. The attorneys are moving on. He continues to teach bankruptcy law at Case University Law School. If you have him as a professor begin by listening to how he speaks. Then move into his world to learn his experiences.
I’ve considered sitting in on one of his classes if only to hear, “Balena, what are you doing here?” This attorney will miss Marvin Sicherman.
PS: It has now been nearly a year since he went inactive. I say inactive because he is still administering assets in bankruptcy cases assigned to him. Every so often I see a docket entry for some action he took in one of my cases. As I see those I enjoy the fact he’s still out there doing what he does best.