From 1989 to 2007, Judges Larry Kelly and Frank Monroe occupied the bankruptcy bench in Austin, providing a period of judicial continuity rivaled only by their colleagues in San Antonio (Judges Leif Clark and Ronald King served at the same time from 1988 to 2012). On April 1, 2013, the Austin bar welcomed its third new judge in six years as Judge Craig Gargotta moved to San Antonio and Judge Tony Davis assumed the bench. Here is an introduction to the newest jurist to oversee Austin insolvency proceedings. (Note: This is an expanded version of an article that I previously published).
Judge Tony Davis spent his time as a student and a young practitioner in three very different locales. He received a B.A. in economics and mathematics from the University of Minnesota at Morris in 1980, was awarded a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1983 and then was admitted to the Oklahoma bar. He spent his early years as an associate with Conner & Winters in Tulsa before making his move to Baker Botts, LLP. Immediately prior to taking the bench, Judge Davis was a partner in the Houston office of Baker Botts.
One of the most challenging cases that he worked on was the Asarco case, which involved nearly $6.5 billion (with a B) in environmental claims. According to the Judge on that case:
Debtors' counsel, lead by Tony Davis with Baker Botts, initiated and ultimately set in place a procedure for pre-trial, discovery, mediation and trial schedule for the estimation of the environmental claims that would have resulted in Court orders or settlements in months instead of years even if all such claims had to be estimated to a final judgment. This incredible process required Debtors' counsel to prepare for multiple-tracked sites teams of environmental and bankruptcy lawyers toward mediation, trial or settlement of each site, yet coordinated such that overlapping legal issues, overlapping facts and experts, could be efficiently implemented.
In re ASARCO, LLC, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 2880 at *26-27 (Bankr. S. D. Tex. 2011).
Some of his other noteworthy cases include representing Ralph S. Janvey, the court appointed receiver in the Stanford International Bank, Ltd. case and representing the Russian Federation in the short-lived bankruptcy of Yukos Oil Company. (The Yukos case involved a Russian company which moved its offices to the home of its CFO in Houston and paid a retainer to Fulbright & Jaworski to qualify for bankruptcy in the United States. The case was dismissed after about three months). Thus, he has experience chasing fraudsters and oligarchs and cleaning up the financial fallout from environmental claims.
What Others Say About Judge Davis
Bill Stutts, who worked with Judge Davis at Baker Botts, described his former colleague as “measured and thoughtful,” stating:
He started practice in bankruptcy in Oklahoma during the oil-patch bankruptcies of the 1980's. He is known to be measured and thoughtful, and rarely (if ever) rash. Responsibility and an expectation that others will be responsible can be hallmarks of his approach to the practice. He is pretty well organized (I don't want to over-sell his work habits too soon), having even found some time during practice to write published law review articles. I believe that he really and honestly views his upcoming service on the bench to be just that-- service.
Mr. Stutts also characterized Judge Davis as a voracious learner and said that by the time he handles his first chapter 13 hearing, he will have studied until he knows as much as or more than anyone else in the room.
Judge Brenda Rhoades was hired as an associate at Baker Botts by Judge Davis. She described him as a most patient and kind supervising attorney. She said that he asked very intelligent but tough questions and taught her about how to work with junior attorneys and how to teach them.
At his investiture ceremony, Judge Davis was described as having a “teutonic work ethic.” Apparently this term comes from the German phrase “hochste Leistung bringen” which loosely translated means “to bring about the highest output or performance” or “to work very intensively.” The concept arises in the teachings of Martin Luther and was referred to by the German sociologist Max Weber as the Protestant work ethic. According to a recent article in Slate, the teutonic work ethic is actually a myth since Greeks work many more hours than Germans. No doubt the term was applied to Judge Davis to refer to his prodigious work output as opposed to the current slothfulness of the German worker.
Judge Davis’s new colleague Chris Mott described him as someone who read the encyclopedia and the dictionary for fun, who was equally interested in tennis and golf and Churchill and chess and who forced his family to listen to Shakespeare on CD on family trips.
Judge Davis In His Own Words
At his investiture, Judge Davis described his feelings at being selected for the position of U.S. Bankruptcy Judge as pride, humility and a sense of responsibility. He said that his goal would be to demonstrate a good judicial demeanor, to be prepared and to rule promptly. He urged practitioners to be prepared to “teach me.” He affirmed that “truth and justice are best revealed in the crucible of the adversary system.” He touted the value of an independent judiciary as opposed to a society subject to “the whim of an ayatollah.”
Practitioners in Judge Davis’s courtroom should be punctual. He has stated that as a practitioner, he was deathly afraid to be late for a hearing and made it a point never to do so. However, on one occasion when he appeared on the bench after the time set for a hearing, he apologized to the bar and stated that he should have allowed himself more than fifteen minutes for lunch.
Judge Davis stated that he has learned from each of the Texas judges that he has appeared before and considered them all role models, but that “if I had to name one, I would name my chief, Judge King, for his exemplary demeanor and the sound judgment that is reflected in his decisions. He said that his biggest challenge would be “quickly developing proficiency in consumer bankruptcy law and practice.” When asked how he would Keep Austin Weird, he said that, “Occasionally I will wear a pink or salmon-colored tie to court.”
If anything, bankruptcy law has seen excessive reform. The Bankruptcy Code, as originally enacted in 1978, has been and continues to be such a remarkably flexible and efficient way to conduct a financial restructuring under court supervision that it is the envy of the commercial world.
Since it was enacted, however, a number of special interest groups have succeeded in carving out special interest legislation to address or protect unique issues that apply to specific industries. These numerous amendments have somewhat increased the complexity of the Bankruptcy Code but, fortunately, have not materially impaired the Bankruptcy Code’s overall effectiveness.
When asked what advice he would give a young lawyer, he said:
This is good advice for lawyers of any age.Seek and take on responsibility — responsibility for understanding the facts and issues involved in the case, responsibility for advising clients, and responsibility for preparing for and conducting in-court hearings and out-of-court negotiations. Accepting and discharging responsibility is the surest way to develop the professional growth you need to be an accomplished and successful lawyer.