Honoring Judge Schermer

Bankruptcy Conference Pays Tribute to Alumnus Schermer’s Innumerable Contributions

Recollections of Judge Barry Schermer’s landmark bankruptcy decisions, legal genius marked by compassion, and expert handling of a massive docket were sprinkled with movie references, stories of pranks, and unrelenting jabs at a lifelong love of the Cardinals.

An afternoon to celebrate Judge Barry S. Schermer, JD ’72, gave 25 speakers a chance to share a funny story while also honoring his 30 years as a judicial innovator and more than 25 years as a gifted professor.  Moderated by Professor Daniel Keating, the Bankruptcy Conference recognized Schermer for his three decades of service as a U.S. Bankruptcy judge for the Eastern District of Missouri and as a member of the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Eighth Circuit, as well as his role as an adjunct professor for countless WashULaw students.

Five panels of five speakers each were greeted by Dean Nancy Staudt, and then enumerated the ways in which Schermer has enriched and improved bankruptcy court for debtors, creditors, and lawyers who represent them.

“I’m humbled and overwhelmed,” Schermer said in his closing remarks, as he thanked those who helped him realize a career on the bankruptcy bench. He acknowledged judges, law partners, colleagues, students, clerks and his staff, he said, “for getting me to this turtle-on-the-fence-post status.”

With Keating setting the tone, each panel mixed humor with respect for his accomplishments in five areas that reflect his unparalleled career:

Consumer: The panel credited Schermer with instituting a “rocket docket” that allowed him to carry and manage a heavy caseload. For example, attorney Wendell Sherk, AB ’86, JD ’89, noted that Schermer heard more than 40 percent of the cases that had come before the three-judge circuit.

Judge Kathy Surratt-States, JD ’91, did the math. In three decades, Schermer has heard more than 80,000 Chapter 13 cases and 82,000 Chapter 7 cases. She also noted his implementation in 1993 of a blue book of local rules, a model Chapter 13 plan, and use of negative notice.

“The reason it works is because Judge Schermer, through his thought and spearheading, has implemented many administrative procedures and systems to make sure debtors and creditors get their day in court while cases move through the system in a timely fashion,” she said.

Commercial: The panel focused on life lessons, in court and on the basketball or tennis court, gleaned from associations with Schermer. Steven N. Cousins, a partner at Armstrong Teasdale LLP, praised him as a “mensch” for his integrity and honor.

“If you are a ‘2,’ Judge Schermer will make you a ‘4.’ If you’re a ‘4,’ he will make you an ‘8,’” said Tom K. O’Loughlin II, who has a private practice in Cape Girardeau.

Appellate: Speakers praised Schermer for helping to establish the bankruptcy judicial panel. “He had the home-court advantage,” recalled Judge Robert J. Kressel of the District of Minnesota, referring to the indoor basketball court that Schermer had built in his chambers at the previous federal courthouse. “If there were disputes among the judges, we could settle it with a game of H-O-R-S-E, because there was a basketball court.”

Even reversals seem to be handled most civilly if they involve Schermer, according to Judge Thomas L. Saladino of the District of Nebraska and a lifelong Cubs fan. “Despite his character flaw, he treats me fairly and impartially,” Saladino joked. “Even when he reverses, he’s just so nice about it.”

Mediation: The panel made several references to Schermer’s handling of the US Fidelis case in 2012, which involved 20,000 claimants and 20 attorneys general. “The more complicated the case, the more he likes it,” Judge Charles E. Rendlen III quipped.

Teaching: Co-teachers, former students, and clerks praised Schermer for more than 25 years as an adjunct instructor at his alma mater. Many chided the judge for preferring to make up nicknames for his students rather than use their given names.

“Who cared if he didn’t know anyone’s real name? He created unforgettable nicknames for everyone,” said Emily Cohen, JD ’00, Schermer’s current permanent clerk. “More importantly, he presented bankruptcy law in an exciting and often entertaining way.”

“But you did fail to teach me to shoot a proper free throw,” said Sandra Louis, JD ’90, Schermer’s former law clerk.

In addition to the conference, two of his former law clerks are establishing a scholarship in Schermer’s honor, and the Washington University Journal of Law & Policy will publish a volume acknowledging his achievements in bankruptcy law. Earlier in the day, WashULaw also hosted oral arguments in two cases before the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the Eighth Circuit.