‘All Business’ GM Bankruptcy Judge Snaps at Joking Lawyer

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The “all business” bankruptcy judge overseeing the reorganization of General Motors had little patience for a lawyer who offered a joke during a hearing yesterday.

The testy moment came as Judge Robert Gerber of Manhattan was hearing a motion to approve certain GM lawyer expenses that included a restriction on flying first class, according to the Associated Press and Automotive News (reg. req.). An unidentified lawyer on the phone asked, ”What about private jets?” The comment was an apparent reference to former CEO Rick Wagoner’s much-criticized flight on a corporate jet to Washington, D.C., where he asked Congress for a bailout.

Gerber was not amused. ”If anybody cracks any jokes, I’m going to disconnect the phones,” Gerber snapped. ”This is serious to a lot of peoples’ lives and I’d think that people here would understand that.”

Gerber is a 1967 graduate of Rutgers and a 1970 graduate of Columbia Law School, where he graduated cum laude. A New York Times profile says Gerber “spent 30 years at the New York firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, and sometimes still runs his courtroom as if he was billing by the hour, on occasion producing a lengthy opinion the morning after a marathon, late-night hearing.”

The profile says Gerber held midnight hearings in the high-profile bankruptcy of the cable company Adelphia and wrote several opinions in the case, “some of them lengthy and at least one scathing.” Columbia University law professor Edward Morrison noted the opinion and told the Times it had accused a group of creditors of a “scorched-earth litigation strategy” for raising objections that could have hindered the sale of the company.

“Perhaps this was an unusual case in which the hedge funds were more aggressive,” Morrison offered. “It’s hard to know.”

David Friedman, a partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, which represented the creditors’ committee in the Adelphia case, told the Times that Gerber is “all business.”

“He wants to focus on the issues, and he wants to get the issues briefed, argued and then get to work,” Friedman said. “He will work as hard as he has to to rule in a timely fashion.”

Andrew Gottesman, a vice president at SecondMarket and a former bankruptcy clerk in the Southern District of New York, told AP that Gerber has a reputation as “very meticulous, very considered in all of his opinions.”

Related coverage:

Bloomberg: “GM Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber Brings Exacting Style to Case”

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