Latest Stutman Refugee Heads to Utah Firm

May 27, 2014
Sara Randazzo
The Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street JournalIn most instances, becoming a bankruptcy judge is an achievement that comes as a capstone to an already successful legal career.

For Ralph Mabey, that hallmark came at a much different time—when he was a 34-year-old lawyer who had never practiced bankruptcy law.

Mr. Mabey, who joined Utah firm Kirton McConkie PC as a shareholder this month, recalled recently how serving as a bankruptcy judge in Utah from 1979 to 1983 set him on his current path.

“It opened up a whole vista of wonderful opportunities,” Mr. Mabey says.

His tenure on the bench was bookended by two important events in the industry: the 1978 passage of the Bankruptcy Code and a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1982 that put the constitutional authority of bankruptcy judges in question.

“It was during this disappointing time that I left the bench,” Mr. Mabey says. Next, he went on to launch a bankruptcy practice for what was then LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae LLP. He left a few years before the firm’s fateful 2007 merger with Dewey Ballantine LLP, the deal that created Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP and spawned the largest law firm bankruptcy in U.S. history in 2012.

Most recently, Mr. Mabey worked as of counsel with Stutman Treister & Glatt, a bankruptcy boutique that amicably closed its doors at the end of April. That firm’s closure, Mr. Mabey says with a chuckle, can’t even be compared to Dewey’s dramatic collapse.

Even though he has been based in Salt Lake City for most of his life, Mr. Mabey’s law practice has taken him far from Utah—and given him 4 million Delta Airlines miles to prove it, he says.

He has worked as the examiner in Extended Stay Hotels’ Chapter 11 case, as a court-appointed mediator in the Lehman Brothers case, as counsel for TWA’s pilot union in all three of the airline’s bankruptcies, and as a mediator in the run-up to Stockton, Calif.’s Chapter 9 filing.

In addition to his practice, Mr. Mabey is also a professor the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law.

At Kirton McConkie, Mr. Mabey will help establish a bankruptcy practice for the 130-lawyer firm. Mr. Mabey says he’s looking forward to having a busy office to go to every day in his home town, unlike with Stutman, when he was the lone attorney in Utah.

“It gives me colleagues I can walk down the hall and talk to,” Mr. Mabey says. “Which I haven’t had in recent years.”