U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Gerber, who oversaw the biggest asset sale and the largest financing loan in court history, will show an exacting style of inquiry during General Motors Corp.’s reorganization, lawyers said.
A U.S. judge in New York’s Southern District since 2000, Gerber’s experience in handling Chapter 11 cases such as Adelphia Communications Corp. and Lyondell Chemical Co. may come in handy when trying to split up GM, the biggest U.S. manufacturer ever to file for protection from creditors.
“He is easily one of the best judges in the Southern District, extremely smart, considerate of counsel and careful,” said Mark R. Jacobs, a lawyer at Pryor Cashman in New York who dealt with Gerber in the Adelphia case. “He has a terrific judicial demeanor, and will give the GM case the attention it needs and deserves.”
Gerber, 62, will preside as creditors challenge the government’s allocation of $82.3 billion of GM assets and $172.8 billion of debt, owed to more than 100,000 creditors. At stake are the jobs, health and retirement benefits of about 90,000 U.S. workers and their families, the economic viability of their communities and about $50 billion in loans from U.S. taxpayers.
The carmaker plans to launch a new company in 60 to 90 days that will be 60 percent owned by taxpayers and that will sell Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Buicks and GMC trucks in the U.S. Gerber will supervise the sale or liquidation of unprofitable brands, such as Saturn and Hummer, and at least 11 unwanted factories. He will likely use the example of Chrysler LLC, which won court approval May 31 to sell most of its assets to a group led by Italy’s Fiat SpA, as a model during deliberations.
Gerber “may have to grapple with some thornier issues than have arisen in the Chrysler case, but he clearly has the intellectual firepower to deal with them,” Jacobs said. “Pretty lucky draw for GM and all of the other players.” Southern District bankruptcy judges are traditionally assigned cases randomly.
A 1967 graduate of Rutgers University, Gerber started working at Fried Frank Harris Shriver & Jacobson LLP after earning his law degree in 1970 from Columbia Law School. A specialist in securities and bankruptcy litigation, Gerber was appointed to the federal bench in 2000, where he’s earned a reputation for keeping close tabs on lawyers.
In a recent hearing involving Crunch Fitness, the bankrupt gym operator, Gerber raised his voice at company lawyers for “obscuring” an inside sale detailed in papers requesting a loan. Gerber yelled that the loan documents were “one of the most outrageous provisions I’ve seen in 40 years of practicing law.” He demanded an affidavit from a company official explaining the deal.