Business Law

ILC Judicial Profile: Hon. Margaret Mann, USBC Southern District of California

The following is a profile of the Honorable Margaret M. Mann, Chief Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of California:

In the Beginning

Due to being raised as a Catholic and attending a catholic school, Judge Mann learned to embrace helping others from an early age. She recognizes the positive feelings she gets from public service and notes that science has now confirmed that altruism benefits the giver more than the recipient.

Hailing from the south side of Chicago, Judge Mann’s college career was inspired by her father’s business background as a neighborhood pharmacist. She graduated in three years from the University of Illinois with a degree in Finance with a minor in Accounting. Intrigued with the beauty and active lifestyle of California, she then attended law school at University of Southern California where she met Michael O’Halloran, her husband for 37 years. Michael is another member of the bankruptcy community, including the Insolvency Law Committee, and the only one of the two who took the bankruptcy class at USC!

Judge Mann became a lawyer at her father’s suggestion, because she liked to read, write and argue, and was not particularly good at science. Her literary interests, even as a teenager, were diverse. At a time when women were just starting to be welcomed into the professions, she was inspired by stories about building character and strategy, which she found in war novels, such as The Thin Red Line about the battle of Guadalcanal.

A Rising Young Lawyer

Most of Judge Mann’s legal career was at the law firm Luce Forward Hamilton & Scripps, where she worked for nearly 20 years and eventually served on the firm’s Executive Committee. She began working at Luce Forward as a third-year associate after the head of the Bankruptcy Department noticed her work in another case. She continued litigating as well. The next year, she was second chair for a jury trial in a lender liability case that lasted four months, which taught her perseverance and stamina. That case later became infamous due to the bribery convictions against the judge, opposing counsel and a party from conduct in that case. While continuing to litigate, Judge Mann determined that the bankruptcy practice was where she wanted to focus her career due to her finance experience and the collegiality among the bankruptcy community.

Judge Mann later was a partner at Heller Ehrman LLP and Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton.

Public Service

Before being appointed to the bench, Judge Mann was active in public service. She served on the Board of Directors for the San Diego Center for Children, which provides residential treatment for children with emotional challenges. She also provided volunteer services to San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program and served for two years as a Court-Appointed Special Advocate (“CASA”) which provides support to juveniles in the dependency system. As a CASA, she was able to combine her parenting experience with her legal experience. She drove one teenager around town to arrange drug treatment, and then took him out for tacos at a place he recommended. Although the experience was one about which most teenagers would sulk and complain, the young man told her that it was the best day of his life. It was humbling to Judge Mann to see how much her minimal effort for the young man gave him joy and comfort. After she retires, Judge Mann has considered returning to service as a CASA.

Judge Mann was also active in the bankruptcy community as a founder and president of the San Diego Bankruptcy Forum, Conference and Program Chair for the California Bankruptcy Forum, Fellow of the American College of Bankruptcy, and as a Ninth Circuit Lawyer Representative, where she was appointed to serve on the Ninth Circuit Conference Executive Committee. Once appointed to the bench, she continued to serve on the Conference Executive Committee, matriculating to becoming the Program and Conference Chair. Some of the highlights of her career came from that service, including the interviewing of Justice Anthony Kennedy on stage and learning from speakers of national prominence on issues affecting the administration of justice.  Judge Mann also served on the Insolvency Law Committee during the 1990s, and always reads the eBulletins. She thanks the lawyers who work with these organizations to continue their service to the bankruptcy community. 

Practices of Judge Mann

Judge Mann publishes and updates her Chambers Guidelines when she discovers information that might help practicing attorneys serve their clients. A recent example is her example of a Liquidation Analysis computation. In her Chapter 11 practice, Judge Mann usually relied on financial advisors to do the calculation. Since consumer attorneys often lack the budget to retain a financial advisor, she thought it would be helpful to give an example and a hyperlink to the formula that permits attorneys to do the calculation more easily.

Four years ago, Judge Mann helped establish at the courthouse the Bankruptcy Self-Help Center, where pro se filers can obtain assistance from the Legal Aid Society of San Diego. The Center is open every Wednesday afternoon on the second floor of the bankruptcy courthouse. The Center then expanded to a clinic three years ago. Judge Mann is grateful to Legal Aid and all the volunteers who help the neediest members of the San Diego community who cannot afford bankruptcy counsel.

While Judge Mann tries to provide the analysis behind her rulings in writing, she will only publish an opinion when writing on a novel topic of importance. The publication process requires extensive effort to ensure the reasoning is sound and fully supported by controlling law. Judge Mann is grateful for the tireless efforts of her dedicated staff when she undertakes to publish an opinion.

Chief Judge Mann

Judge Mann was appointed to be Chief Judge on October 1, 2019, succeeding Judge Laura Taylor who expertly guided the court for the last seven years. As the current Chief, Judge Mann plans to continue the work started by Judge Taylor and her predecessors in maintaining an interactive relationship with the bankruptcy community and ongoing communication and connection with the Judicial Council, the Ninth Circuit and the District Court in San Diego.

Judge Mann knows she will need the help of her colleagues in addressing the challenges currently facing the bankruptcy community in San Diego, including:

  • The retirement of Barry Lander, Clerk of the Court, in June 2020 which will be a major loss to the court.  Barry has been a leader not only locally but also to the national bankruptcy community. His services include developing ECF filing and volunteering to serve as the pilot court for implementation.
  • Meeting the challenges of SBRA – Subchapter V for Small Businesses under the Bankruptcy Code.  She believes that while this statutory scheme may result in lower costs, it may also mean that a debtor cedes control of its case to a Chapter V Trustee.
  • Ensuring the court continues to support and encourage pro bono services.  

At the End of the Day

Judge Mann enjoys her life outside of the law, particularly time with her family. Judge Mann describes her marriage as a perfect blend of the concepts of Yin & Yang, with Michael having the calm demeanor, and her providing the energy. She and Michael tend not to talk shop at home and are respectful of each other’s potentially different views on the law. 

Judge Mann and Michael are avid bicyclists, commuting to work on their bicycles frequently, about 12 miles round trip. Both ride custom made Holland bikes and have gone on bike trips all over the US and internationally, most recently a trip to the Champagne and Alsace regions in France. The trip enabled them to combine their love of wine, food and the exercise necessary to manage the consumption of the food and wine. These interests extend to cooking and gardening. There is a certain amount of stress relief in digging in the dirt, chopping vegetables, and making bread.

Her advice to lawyers is to stay intellectually curious and keep trying to be a better person. These efforts, combined with a strategic sense of the practice, will give you better career options and job satisfaction. Giving back to the community will also give your life purpose.

These materials were prepared by Gary Rudolph of Sullivan Hill Rez & Engel in San Diego (rudolph@sullivanhill.com) and Misty Perry Isaacson of Pagter and Perry Isaacson in Santa Ana (misty@ppilawyers.com).

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