Longtime Texas Bankruptcy Judge Larry Kelly Passes Away

Longtime Texas Bankruptcy Judge Larry Kelly Passes Away

 Larry E. Kelly who served as U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Western District of Texas from 1986-2007, passed away on March 19, 2014. Chief Bankruptcy Judge Ronald B. King announced the news to the bar. 

It is my sad duty to inform you that Judge Larry Kelly passed away this morning before 7:00 a.m. I am in Waco today and he was too sick to see me yesterday, but I was planning to try again today. Needless to say, we have suffered a big loss. Larry was such a huge part of our court since 1986 when he began his tenure as a bankruptcy judge and became chief judge in 1988. He retired from the bench in February, 2007, but practiced law and taught at Baylor until last fall and actually finished grading his final exams two weeks ago.

Judge Kelly's obituary can be viewed here.   His funeral will be on Saturday March 22, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. at First United Methodist Church of Waco, 4901 Cobbs Dr, Waco, TX 76710.

A short article that I wrote at the time of Judge Kelly's retirement in 2007 appears below. I plan to write more after the memorial service.

Judge Kelly’s tenure spanned a period of great change in the Western District. When Judge Kelly was appointed in 1986, judicial pay was low and the hours were long. As one of only two bankruptcy judges, Judge Kelly along with Judge Ayers covered a territory larger than most states. During the tumultuous 1980s, business bankruptcies made up 20% of the docket with the attendant demands on court time.

During his years on the bench, Judge Kelly handled many large and notorious cases in the Austin Division. These included former Governor John B. Connally, homebuilder Nash Phillips/Copus, Inc., Circle C Joint Venture, Mr. Gattis, Inc. and Great Hills Baptist Church. He also tried the litigation over the failed merger between El Paso Electric Company and Central & South West Corporation.

Judge Kelly was a colorful presence on the bench. His trademark phrase of “Let me tell you where I’m at” was used to speed resolution of cases. When offering advice on how something could be done better, he often prefaced his remarks with “In my twelve years of practice …” (a phrase which became less frequent as his time on the bench eclipsed his years as a practicing attorney).

Judge Kelly encouraged lawyers to a higher standard of practice and was concerned about how the bankruptcy system was viewed by the general public. He would often comment about how a particular situation would look to the folks in “Warshington,” a concern which became more prominent as bankruptcy reform was in the spotlight for nearly ten years. He took great pains to insist that disclosure statements actually contain meaningful information and that plans set out the mechanics of how they would work. He expressed great frustration with lawyers who would submit ambiguous pleadings and orders and then ask the court to decide what they had meant. He is rumored to have commented that Larry Kelly the lawyer would not have fared well in front of Larry Kelly the judge.

Judge Kelly’s most lasting contribution will likely be his emphasis on technology. He pushed and prodded the Western District into being the first district in the nation to go live with electronic filing in 2001. He also was one of the first bankruptcy judges to use video court to better serve his far-flung divisions.

Judge Kelly’s retirement marks the end of an era. It has been 17 years since the last vacancy on the Western District Bankruptcy bench.

 Read more at A Texas Bankruptcy Lawyer's Blog

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