Federal bankruptcy judge Pearson to retire

After more than 30 years on the bench, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson will retire later this year.

In a letter on the court’s website, Pearson, 72, wrote that he will retire Oct. 8, when his current term of office ends. He was appointed judge in 1983 and has served since as Southern West Virginia’s sole bankruptcy judge, splitting time among Charleston, Huntington, Beckley, Parkersburg and Bluefield.

Bankruptcy judges are appointed by judges on the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond for 14 year terms.

“It’s a really interesting job, because you’re so invested in the fabric of the community,” Pearson, a Fairmont native, told the Gazette on Tuesday.

He encouraged attorneys in the southern part of the state to apply for the appointment and said that’s why he gave nearly a year’s notice about his plan to retire.

“During my tenure, the high quality and standard of practice maintained by attorneys in this district has made my job rewarding and enjoyable,” he wrote. “To whoever the successful applicant may be, I pledge my sincere and complete cooperation to achieve the best possible transition of all responsibilities of this office.”

Before becoming judge, Pearson served as state treasurer and as finance commissioner for the state. In 1980, he helped form the law firm Cecil Pearson & Barth, on Charleston’s West Side, along with J. David Cecil, and J. Nicholas Barth. After Pearson became a judge, Stephen L. Thompson joined the firm, which is now Barth & Thompson.

Cecil said Tuesday that he met Pearson while they were in law school together at West Virginia University. They are still good friends, but Cecil admits he doesn’t get to see the judge much.

“Ron is a workaholic,” Cecil said. “He’s well organized, he knows what he’s doing and he looks out, from my listening to him, for the state of West Virginia -- even from the bankruptcy court.”

Although Pearson has an extremely large caseload, he doesn’t have nearly the work he did about 10 years ago, before bankruptcy laws were amended to limit the eligibility of who can file.

“At one time we had the highest caseloads per district in the country,” Pearson said, adding it would be helpful if the district had another judge, but he doesn’t see that happening anytime soon because of budget constraints.

Bankruptcy law has always interested the judge, he said, because of the business aspect, he said. Pearson estimated between 50 and 75 attorneys who regularly practice the specialized area of the law in Southern West Virginia.

“What I’m proud of the [bankruptcy attorneys in the Southern District] for is that they try to always minimize everybody’s losses,” the judge said.

Pearson said being judge has been very rewarding, pointing to overseeing cases like Blenko Glass Co.’s bankruptcy several years ago.

The Milton-based glassmaker filed for bankruptcy protection in May 2011, listing debts to at least 50 creditors. Pearson approved a reorganization plan for the company in 2012.

“Blenko is a marvelous, marvelous, it’s an institution, not just a company,” Pearson said. “It’s known worldwide and when you have a chance to work with people and companies like that and see them use the federal law to restructure themselves and get a fresh start it’s a very rewarding job.”

Recently, Pearson has overseen the bankruptcy case of Freedom Industries, the company that fouled thousands of West Virginians’ water with a chemical leak into the Elk River last year.

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1723 or @KateLWhite on Twitter.

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