Winter/Spring 2015 • Issue 54, page 1

Interview: Hon. Alan Jaroslovsky

By Oliner, Ron*

To anyone who has been involved in a bankruptcy case north of San Francisco, from Marin County up to Eureka, Judge Jaroslovsky is a well-known fixture. He has served our community as a bankruptcy judge in the Northern District of California, Santa Rosa Division, for 29 years (that's two full terms and now beginning his third), and presided over thousands of bankruptcy cases, large and small. I recall speaking at length with another great jurist, Judge James Grube (now deceased), many years ago, and am reminded of his description of three important qualities every judge should bring to the bench. One, a judge has a duty to carefully read the papers submitted. Two, a judge must allow counsel to make their arguments at the hearing, and really listen to them. And three, a judge should always try to rule promptly and make clear to the losing party the basis for the adverse ruling. Lawyers (me included) who have appeared regularly before Judge Alan Jaroslovsky over the past three decades will agree that he exemplifies these characteristics. Below is a short conversation we had in his chambers recently, which I hope you find interesting.

Ron: To begin with, let me ask you to talk a little bit about your background and your roots in Northern California.

Judge Jaroslovsky: Well, I was born in Iowa, but my parents moved to Petaluma when I was two and to Santa Rosa when I was seven. So, I was raised in Santa Rosa. Montgomery High, Class ’66. I left Santa Rosa in ’66 to go to UCLA. I spent four years at UCLA and three years in the Navy, and then I went to law school in San Francisco. When I graduated law school, I moved back to Santa Rosa and hung out my shingle.

Ron: You were a sole practitioner initially, were you not?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Yes.

Ron: Tell me a little bit about that. What sort of work you were doing for clients in those early days as a sole practitioner?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Well, I started out in general solo stuff, no family law but general civil and with an emphasis on real estate. I think I made $2000 my first year, and $1500 my second year, but on increased volume. But then my best client had to file bankruptcy, and that was in 1979, just as the new Bankruptcy Code went into effect. There was literally nobody in town who understood the Bankruptcy Code so I had to teach it to myself in order to handle a bankruptcy case. I fell in love with it. I started doing more and more, and the more I did the more people started referring things to me.

Ron: So, you were doing debtor side work in the late ‘70s, early ‘80s?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Well, I started out doing debtor work but very quickly, by the time I’d been doing bankruptcy for a few years, I was doing secured creditor work, creditors’ committee work, and the biggest case I had I represented the trustee. So, I did a little bit of everything.

Ron: Who was the judge back in those days here in Santa Rosa?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Conley Brown.

Ron: Of course. And generally, can you describe the legal landscape here in that time?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Well, when I started, Conley was the judge for this district. Lloyd King was the San Francisco judge, there was Cy Abrams down in San Jose, and in Oakland, there was Cameron Wolf and Jack Rainville, I believe. I don’t go back to the generation before and don’t recall the judges before them. But those were the judges on the bench – when I started.

Ron: You must have appeared before Judge Brown in particular, enumerable times in those years. What was he like?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Well, I give Conley a lot of credit for my career and getting me into bankruptcy. When I first started practicing bankruptcy law, he did not know me from Adam. I mean, I was just this young kid venturing into a new area, and bankruptcy has always been to some extent a close-knit club with regular practitioners. And in Conley I found a judge who was fair and would listen to what I had to say even though I was a young kid. You can’t ask for any more from a judge than that. So, I fell in love with the practice. I fell in love with the complexity and the fact that it moves so fast. Things happen. You don’t have to litigate for five years before you’re forced to settle, and there’s all kinds of interesting issues, not only bankruptcy law, but every other of the area of law that pop up in the bankruptcy context. Combine that with a fair judge who listens. What more could you ask for?

Ron: How long have you been on the bench?

Judge Jaroslovsky: I’m in my 29th year.

Ron: I’ve been in your courtroom on at least a few larger cases and many others not so large. Can you briefly describe, maybe in a few words, the more memorable cases you’ve had here in your 29 years on the bench?

Judge Jaroslovsky: We don’t get the big mega cases, but do get in a bunch of interesting ones. There have been a lot of cases which have had local impact on the community, Eureka Southern Railroad – for one.

Ron: Health Plan of the Redwoods?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Yes. And some pretty large individual bankruptcies, when very successful business persons got caught up in the recession. But you know, the bigger the case, the better the lawyers; I can’t take credit for what the lawyers have done in those cases.

Ron: I can’t recall when we went live on Electronically Case Filing System.

Judge Jaroslovsky: We did it here in 2003. We were the first to go.

Ron: You were well ahead, and maybe still are, of the curve and you personally were a great advocate for the change-over. Any comments about the change to electronic filing and where we are now?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Oh, yeah. It had to be done. At the height of the recession, with half of the people we used to have, we were dealing with three times the normal case load. There was no way we could have done it without electronic filing. It just had to be. And that’s the only thing that made managing our huge caseload during the recession manageable at all.

Ron: I think it’s also changed our world immeasurably in the sense that when I was a young lawyer working for Irv Kornfield, I would have to go to the Clerk’s Office in Oakland, or San Francisco, or Santa Rosa, just to read the docket in order to figure out what the heck was going on in a case. Now we do that every day from our computers.

Judge Jaroslovsky: But it had to be done, and we led the way here in Santa Rosa. We had excellent people and we had to drag the rest of the district kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Ron: What’s keeping you busy on the docket lately?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Things are quieter than they’ve ever been. Thank God. We went through four years of hell with huge case loads. I was trying to be chief judge on top of that. So, I’m very grateful for the respite, that things are very slow now that the recession is over, and that the economy is picking up.

Ron: What are common mistakes or pet peeves you have when lawyers appear before you? This may be the most important question for our readers.

Judge Jaroslovsky: Well, one thing that I really dislike, is when some attorneys appear by telephone, they are rude and interrupt another attorney or interrupt me or blather on and I can’t get a word edge wise. They don’t realize that when you’re appearing by telephone and you can’t see what’s going on in the courtroom, you have to be extra courteous and not extra rude. So, I usually have fairly quick words of chastisement for attorneys who think because they are on the telephone they are entitled to interrupt anyone.

Ron: And, finally, can you tell us a little bit about any hobbies or interests you have, stuff you like to do outside of your career as a judge?

Judge Jaroslovsky: Well, my two hobbies are astronomy and cars. I am an amateur astronomer, and I have had an article published in an astronomy magazine. I’ve had articles published in astronomy magazines and bankruptcy journals and car magazines. But I raced race cars during the ‘90s. I have retired from racing, but I taught racing at the SCCA licensing school for seven years after I stopped racing. They have a track up in Willow Springs, and they run a three-day school every year.

Ron: Well, thank you very much.

*Ron Mark Oliner is a partner at the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP.