Samuel J Steiner, "Judge" as he was known to most, longtime Bankruptcy Judge and lifelong Seattle resident, passed away peacefully on July 19th, exactly one month before his 84th birthday.in Seattle, WA. RETIRING BANKRUPTCY JUDGE SAMUEL J. STEINER – A LIFETIME OF SERVICE By J. Todd Tracy and Marjorie S. Raleigh For thirty-two years, Judge Samuel J. Steiner has served the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington. This makes Judge Steiner the longest serving, non-recalled, active Bankruptcy Judge in the United States. During his tenure on the bench, he has witnessed the transition from the...
Samuel J Steiner, "Judge" as he was known to most, longtime Bankruptcy Judge and lifelong Seattle resident, passed away peacefully on July 19th, exactly one month before his 84th birthday.in Seattle, WA.
RETIRING BANKRUPTCY JUDGE SAMUEL J. STEINER – A LIFETIME OF SERVICE
By J. Todd Tracy and Marjorie S. Raleigh
For thirty-two years, Judge Samuel J. Steiner has served the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Washington. This makes Judge Steiner the longest serving, non-recalled, active Bankruptcy Judge in the United States. During his tenure on the bench, he has witnessed the transition from the Bankruptcy Act to the enactment of the Bankruptcy Code, to the jurisdictional crisis, and most recently, the implementation of the Bankruptcy Abuse and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. Through all of these changes, Judge Steiner has maintained his calm demeanor while gently dispensing economic justice.
Judge Steiner is a Seattle native. His father was originally from New York City and his mother from is from Russia. His parents lived on Alki when he was born, then moved to the Capital Hill area where he attended the old Lowell School. The Steiner family eventually moved to the Mount Baker neighborhood and Judge Steiner attended the John Muir School beginning in the third grade. He graduated from Franklin High School. He was expected to attend college and, because his parents could only afford a local university, he attended the University of Washington and studied pre-law. He then went on to earn his J.D. from the University of Washington Law School, graduating in the summer of 1951. At that time, resident tuition was $30 per quarter plus a $10 library fee.
During law school, the Korean War broke out. Judge Steiner received a deferment to finish law school and another to take the bar exam in January 1952. He was drafted on February 13, 1952. He was stationed at Ford Ord for basic training and was called to active duty as a commissioned JAG officer in June 1952. After JAG school, he was stationed at Camp Irwin in the middle of the Mojave Desert for six months. He did not like the desert and told his Adjutant General, "I'll go anywhere." Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Korea for one year.
While in Korea, he prosecuted routine military cases, including drug offenses, desertions, and many other matters. He also prosecuted a first degree murder case that stemmed from a gambling dispute and successfully defended a major arson case involving a huge fire that burned the whole of downtown Pusan. Judge Steiner credits his Army experience for teaching him to prepare for trial, to think on his feet, to understand the rules of evidence, and to try a case.
Steiner continued to serve in the U.S. Army Reserves until he retired in March 1978. At the time of his retirement, he held the rank of full Colonel. Jerry Shulkin, one of Judge Steiner's closest friends, likes to tell the story that during reserve training each summer; the Judge's fellow officers would often make themselves scarce when it was time for pistol training on the range. Apparently, Judge Steiner was not a particularly good marksman. In one story, he missed a target; the bullet ricocheted and put a hole in another officer's pants!
Judge Steiner's father operated a successful collection agency. After returning from Korea, Judge Steiner took an office in the Vance Building in downtown Seattle and did legal work for his father, and other clients. He developed a considerable creditor's rights and receivership practice. One day while walking up third avenue to his office, he was approached by Laird Peterson, who had just been appointed a trustee in a bankruptcy case. Laird needed an attorney. At that time, Judge Steiner had no bankruptcy experience, but took on the representation. He successfully set aside a conditional sales contract and the trustee was able to sell a drag line and several pieces of equipment for the benefit of the creditors. It was his first, but not his last, venture into bankruptcy law.
During this time, bankruptcy law was covered by the Bankruptcy Act. The Bankruptcy Act established the position of bankruptcy referee "to assist the District Court in expeditiously transaction the bankruptcy business." In March 1978, an opening arose for a bankruptcy referee position in Seattle. Judge McGovern appointed Steiner to the post and on June 23, 1978, Samuel J. Steiner was sworn in as a Bankruptcy Referee. Three months later, President Carter signed the new Bankruptcy Code of 1978 into law and when the Code became effective on October 1, 1979, Bankruptcy Referee Steiner became Bankruptcy Judge Steiner.
He was immediately thrust into the national bankruptcy spotlight. On December 10, 1979, then attorney Tom Zilly, Mike Wickstead and Chuck Ekberg filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy case called Western Farmers Co-op. At the time, it was the largest Chapter 11 case to be filed under the new Bankruptcy Code. The parties and the Court were all navigating their way through the uncharted waters of the new Bankruptcy Code and Judge Steiner wrote several opinions which are still cited today.
Judge Steiner is the only Western District Bankruptcy Judge who was directly impacted by the jurisdictional crisis created when the United States Supreme Court decided Northern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co (1982). The 1978 Bankruptcy Code conferred jurisdiction on the bankruptcy court for all matters arising under Title 11. Thus, all of the jurisdiction given to the Article III District Court was to be exercised by the non-Article III bankruptcy courts. The system worked well until Marathon found that this jurisdictional scheme was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court stayed its decision through December 25, 1982 in order to allow Congress to act and correct the jurisdictional flaw. Congress did not act timely so an Emergency Rule was implemented whereby bankruptcy judges were sworn in as "consultants" who then reviewed cases and sent a packet of ex parte or agreed orders to the district court judge to sign or deny. Contested matters were delayed. It was not until 1984 that the jurisdictional issue was resolved by Congress.
Judge Steiner has presided over several other high profile cases including the Frederick and Nelson bankruptcy. One of the most hotly contested issues in that case involved the well known candy, Frango's. Frango's were made and sold under a license from Marshall Field's. As part of the Frederick and Nelson Chapter 11, a major dispute arose over the fate of Frango's. Motions were filed, extensive briefs were prepared, and a hearing was set. On the day of the hearings, the attorneys requested an opportunity to meet in one of the Court's conference rooms. Judge Steiner gladly opened the conference room door and after several hours, the parties emerged with a settlement that preserved Frango's in the Pacific Northwest. He is widely credited with saving the candy for future generations to enjoy, all without ever issuing a ruling.
His decisions have also made important impacts on state law. Following a decision in In re Association Center Limited Partnership, the Washington legislature clarified what steps were required to perfect a security interest in an assignment of rents provision in a mortgage or deed of trust.
Most recently, Judge Steiner has presided over the mammoth Michael Mastro bankruptcy case. He has also had the opportunity to learn Chapter 13 law after he took over a substantial number of Chapter 13 cases from retired Judges Brandt and Glover.
Judge Steiner always prepares for hearings on his 1955 Underwood manual typewriter, laying out facts and arguments of each side and then color-coding his notes with highlighters. After trials, he often takes matters under advisement (sometimes just long enough to type up his ruling) and makes an oral ruling which stands for his findings and conclusions. Many long time bankruptcy practitioners are familiar with that tap-tap-tap sound that emanated from his chambers.
On the personal side, Judge Steiner is an aficionado of jazz music. He became interested in jazz in high school. In 1941, a friend introduced him to some Lionel Hampton records and then New Orleans jazz. He listed to Len Beardsley on the radio and he never cared for bop or modern jazz. He still attends jazz performances, but finds that modern jazz leaves him "cold." He treasures his autographed photo of Mel Torme, which has a prominent location in his chambers.
Judge Steiner was married to his wonderful wife Charlotte, who passed away a few years ago. They had two children, Harry and Annie. Harry and his wife Teresa adopted a baby from China named Ruby. Judge Steiner bursts with pride when he talks about the herculean efforts that Harry and Teresa went through to adopt their baby and how Annie was such a compassionate caretaker in her mother's later years. He also bursts with pride whenever he talks about Ruby, who is the apple of her grandfather's eye.
For years, Judge Steiner and Charlotte had a big party in their Mercer Island home on the night of every presidential election. The invitations were printed on T-shirts, which Charlotte and an artist friend designed. The parties were catered, and there was a television in every room. The parties were always civil. When George H.W. Bush ran for office, Charlotte decorated the house with artificial bushes. At the time, the Steiners were dog-sitting a Great Dane. In the morning, Judge Steiner came down to find that the dog hadn't been let out when he needed to be and had peed all over the [B]ush. He laughed so loud he woke up the house.
Judge Steiner has always had a genuine admiration of the law, compassion for those individuals who come before him, and respect for the lawyers who have appeared in his courtroom over the past three decades. He has truly enjoyed his work (with the exception of listening to appraiser testimony). As Judge Steiner retires , he is looking forward to spending more time with his family, playing bridge, listening to his beloved jazz music, and spoiling his granddaughter.
J. Todd Tracy is Counsel at Crocker Law Group, a former President of the FBA-WDWA and a former law clerk to Judge Steiner. Marjorie S. Raleigh is an Office of the United States Trustee and former law clerk to Judge Steiner.
(Above article reproduced with the expressed permission of the Federal Bar Association of the Western District of Washington.)
Samuel is survived by a son Harry Steiner (Teresa Squillace), daughter Annie Steiner, a granddaughter Ruby Steiner. Sameul is preceeded in death by his loving wife, Charlotte. A funeral service is scheduled for Sunday, July 24th, 2011 at 11am in the Chapel of Sunset Hills Funeral Home in Bellevue, WA. Interment to follow at Sunset Hills Funeral Home & Memorial Park. Arrangements entrusted to Sunset Hills Funeral Home.