After 28 years on the bench, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Jerry Funk began virtual retirement on November 2, the first day of three-year reserve status.
It is through this status that Funk, 76, will stay in touch with his colleagues and help his successor and another new Texas bankruptcy courts judge move to the bench in the Middle District of Florida.
âI don’t play golf. I am not a fisherman. I read and jog everyday, âFunk said.
“It’s having a place to go for a few hours, but I’ll let the new guys handle Chapter 11 because it can last a long time.”
Appointed to the bench in 1993, Funk has presided over many high-profile cases, including the Chapter 11 reorganization of Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. and the personal Texas bankruptcy courts of former Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell.
He presided over the liquidation of Taylor, Bean & Whitaker, an Ocala-based wholesale mortgage lender. The case is significant because TB&W was the fifth largest issuer of Government National Mortgage Association securities when the government shut it down in 2009 and accused it of bank fraud.
The last case in Funk’s full-time career in bankruptcy court was the liquidation of Jacksonville-based Stein Mart Inc.
A reluctant law student
Funk grew up in North Georgia. He was firmly guided to college by his father, a Polish immigrant who worked in textile factories, where Funk worked every summer from his teenage years.
âDad gave me the dirtiest and toughest jobs. He didn’t want me to be in the carpet business, âFunk said.
After graduating with a business administration degree from the University of Georgia in 1967, Funk said he had a choice between continuing his education or possibly being drafted and sent to the Vietnam War.
âI never wanted to be a lawyer, but took business law courses in Georgia. I said okay, let me go to law school.
After enrolling at the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Funk joined the US Army Reserve and missed a semester during his basic training.
He returned and received his JD in 1970.
âWhen I got out of law school, I said I would take the bar exam – once. I took a review course and they told me I had a 70% chance of passing it, âsaid Funk.
With law school behind him, Funk and his wife, Maxine Witten Funk, were planning to move to South Florida, but that plan changed.
Maxine’s parents lived in Jacksonville, so the Funks rented them a house and Funk began looking for a job after passing the Miami bar exam.
âI went to insurance companies to try to find a job because I didn’t think I passed the exam. They wouldn’t hire me. They said that with a law degree I was overqualified, âFunk said.
He learned from a cousin who practiced law that a small local firm, Coleman Madsen, may be looking to hire someone to draft motions, write letters and do research.
Funk said he went to meet the partners without a rÃ©sumÃ© or transcript, always under the impression that he would never have been able to pass the bar exam.
âThey interviewed me on a Friday and called later that day and told me to come to work on Monday. I was lucky in a job.
One of the partners decided to call the Florida Board of Bar Examiners to inquire about the results of the new hire’s exam.
âThey told him I had passed. I didn’t believe it, so I called the board and confirmed it, âFunk said.
A few weeks later, Coleman decided to leave the company. Madsen did a lot of work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so he spent most of his time in Salt Lake City, where the church is based, Funk said.
âAll of a sudden, I was alone in the office. I had no mentors and was going to compete with experienced lawyers. I was beaten to death. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I started to enjoy practicing law.
Learning by doing
As an involuntary solo practitioner, Funk struggled to build enough businesses to make a decent living in civil law, so he diversified his practice.
In the early 1970s, the city court paid private lawyers to represent indigent defendants, he said.
âI won $ 25 per case. I picked up two or three cases, sometimes four. They were mostly DUIs and I was putting them on probation, âFunk said.
He then partnered with attorney Mark Green and practiced personal injury, family and real estate law for almost 20 years at Funk & Green.
He also started doing pro tort work in federal court and some simple filings in bankruptcy court.
His limited bankruptcy practice led him to become a Chapter 13 trustee.
âWhen I went to the bench, I had all the experience in the world. It probably made me a better judge, âsaid Funk.
Funk applied to become a bankruptcy judge in 1992 and was appointed a year later.
âThe work brought in two-thirds of what I earned as a lawyer. It was tough, but it turned out to be the best job I’ve ever had, âsaid Funk.
Sense of humor
As a somewhat reluctant former law student and mostly self-taught lawyer, Funk transferred this training to the judiciary.
âI take my job seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. You have to keep a sense of humor, âhe said.
This was evident the day Funk began presiding over the Winn-Dixie bankruptcy in 2005.
âAt the first hearing, I brought in all these lawyers from New York. They spoke at 100 miles an hour. I said, ‘Wait a minute. You are not in New York, you are in the South. We speak much slower. We hear much more slowly. Guys, you need to calm down, âFunk said.
âAt the next hearing, none of these guys were there. They brought in a local lawyer.
Funk’s judicial demeanor and sense of humor are appreciated by lawyers practicing in his court.
âJudge Funk treats people with respect, kindness and often with humor. It makes it a pleasure to appear before him. He disarms everyone with his modesty and humility, then impresses you with his devious Southern intellect. It’s a real gift, âsaid Allan Wulbern, president of the Jacksonville Bankruptcy Bar Association.
âCases involving multi-million dollar business problems can be heard the very day an individual tries to save their home from foreclosure and get a fresh start,â Wulbern said.
âIt takes a special person to be a bankruptcy judge and the best never lose sight of how impactful their decisions can be. ”
Funk said his philosophy is to treat everyone the same, whether it’s a complex business liquidation or consumers who have taken on too much credit card debt and represent themselves in front of the courts. courts.
âI sit and listen and let them get rid of their chest. A lot of people just want to spend their day in court. ”
Funk is replaced by Jacksonville bankruptcy attorney Jacob “Jay” Brown, who was sworn in on November 3.
Another bankruptcy judge will also be appointed in Jacksonville to succeed Judge Cynthia Jackson, who retired from court in August.
Funk said he was considering retiring when his wife, 45, died in October 2011 after a short illness. He decided to stay on the bench to focus on work, but that was 10 years ago.
âI’m ready now. Enough is enough,â Funk said.