After 32 years, Chief Bankruptcy Judge Gregory F. Kishel is retiring on May 31, 2016. He started as a parttime Bankruptcy Judge in May 1984 serving in Duluth, Minnesota. He was appointed to a full-time bankruptcy judgeship in St. Paul in 1986. It was a period of transition and turmoil. Only a decade earlier, bankruptcy cases were handled by referees who lacked authority to make final orders. In the aftermath of Northern Pipeline Constr. Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U.S. 50 (1982), the system of bankruptcy courts and judges provided by the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 was suddenly unconstitutional. In the summer of 1984, Congress passed the Bankruptcy Amendments and Federal Judgeship Act of 1984, which appeared to patch the constitutional deficiency until Stern v. Marshall, 564 U.S. 2 (2011), again found the system unconstitutional in some cases. Judge Kishel would later remark that there was controversy about the constitutionality of his position both at the beginning and near the end of his judicial career.
Judge Kishel was the last of four new bankruptcy judges appointed from late 1982 through mid-1984. Judge John J. Connelly, one of the last referees, mentored the new judges. Judge Kishel is the last of the 1980s appointees to retire and has taken on the role of mentor to three new bankruptcy judges who have been appointed since 2012.
Judge Kishel started his legal career representing low-income clients out of a storefront in Duluth. Even after joining the bench, Judge Kishel has supported the Volunteer Attorneys Program in Duluth, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, and Volunteer Lawyers Network. In 2014, Judge Kishel was awarded the Nancy C. Dreher Pro Bono Distinguished Service Award for his long -term commitment to supporting pro bono efforts.
Judge Kishel has presided over thousands of cases. None have been more significant than the various Petters cases, the largest Ponzi scheme in history at the time the cases were filed (weeks before Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme was discovered). Besides the ongoing Petters cases, one of his more prominent cases the past few years has been the case of Magnetation, LLC, a company in Grand Rapids, Minnesota that uses magnetic separators to recover iron ore concentrate from waste stockpiles left over from prior mining operations. Judge Kishel grew up on the Iron Range in Virginia, Minnesota, so it is fitting that one of his last major cases concerns an iron company up north.
While Judge Kishel has been known for writing lengthy and erudite decisions on a wide-range of bankruptcy issues, he has also been known for scholarship in other areas. In the 1960s, he published a Marvel Comics fanzine. Since at least the early 1990s, he has regularly contributed articles and translations to the Polish Genealogical Society of Minnesota Newsletter, found at: http://pgsmn.org/newsletters/.
Judge Kishel has publicly announced that one possible post-retirement project will be researching and writing biographies of Minnesota’s bankruptcy referees going back to the enactment of the Bankruptcy Act of 1898.
- Not counting Judge Margaret “Peggy” Mahoney, who resigned her position as a bankruptcy judge in Minnesota in 1988 to become a bankruptcy judge in the Southern District of Texas.
This article was originally published by the Federal Bar Association Minnesota Chapter in the May 2016 publication, Volume 10, Issue 4. The original copy can be read on page 6 at the link below.