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COURT: Northern District of California Bankruptcy Court, Oakland Division APPOINTED: April 14, 1988, by Judge James Browning DATE OF BIRTH: Aug. 6, 1943 LAW SCHOOL: Boalt Hall School of Law (1976) PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None Leslie Tchaikovsky may or may not be related to the famed 19th-century Russian composer who shares her last name. She likes to believe there’s a relation, she says, though she’s never actually run any kind of genealogy check to find out. But whatever her pedigree, the Northern District of California Bankruptcy Court judge has got an ear for the fine points of insolvency law, say attorneys that have appeared in her Oakland courtroom. And she has devoted herself to the profession with an artist’s zeal. “She’s very good at what she does and she clearly enjoys it,” says Foley & Lardner attorney Andrea Porter. Bankruptcy lawyers throughout the Bay Area hold Tchaikovsky in high regard, citing her impressive knowledge of the subject, her fairness and her willingness to listen. For Tchaikovsky, listening is a key part of the job. “I think we have a duty to the people we serve to not only give them the right decision but to make them feel like they’ve been heard,” says Tchaikovsky. A native of Portland, Ore., Tchaikovsky got her J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law. After spending a year clerking at the Nevada Supreme Court, she returned to the Bay Area and worked at San Francisco’s Dinkelspiel, Pelavin, Steefel & Levitt. During her 10-year career at the firm (which split into Dinkelspiel, Donovan & Reder and Steefel, Levitt & Weiss in 1980) Tchaikovsky focused on bankruptcy and commercial litigation. Although the Dinkelspiel firm didn’t concentrate on bankruptcy, it has proven a reliable source for the federal bankruptcy bench. Central District of California Bankruptcy Court Judge Thomas Donovan is an alumni of the firm. And the Northern District’s Judge Dennis Montali spent a year there, too. Tchaikovsky threw her hat in the ring in 1988, applying for one of several open judgeship slots so she could focus on the “purely academic aspects” of bankruptcy law. Her keen interest has not diminished over the years and is evident in her active involvement in legal organizations and events. She never misses a bar association lunch and keeps abreast of all the latest developments in the field of bankruptcy law, according to attorneys who know her. Tchaikovsky is chairing the educational section of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, which takes place in San Diego later this month, organizing the conference’s dozens of panels on bankruptcy issues. This fluency in the law is among Tchaikovsky’s key assets, say attorneys who have appeared before her. At hearings, Tchaikovsky “always has read everything and has thought through all the issues,” says Ellen Friedman of Friedman Dumas & Springwater. In fact, Tchaikovsky often provides parties with her tentative thoughts on a matter at the start of a hearing, giving lawyers a chance to tailor their arguments as needed. She is always willing to hear people out and to consider all sides of an issue, say attorneys familiar with the judge. The trait is especially noteworthy in bankruptcy court, where penniless debtors, unable to afford representation and unfamiliar with the intricacies of the Bankruptcy Code, frequently appear in pro per. “When I sit through some of her calendars and watch her patience, I’m always amazed,” says Frederick Holden Jr., a bankruptcy partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe. “She just takes the extra minute or two to see that the debtor who’s there without a lawyer always understands the system.” But this doesn’t mean Tchaikovsky runs a slow or disorderly courtroom. The judge routinely cruises through a calendar packed with eight to 10 relief-from-stay hearings in an hour. “She’s reasonable,” explains Reed Smith Crosby Heafey partner Mike Buckley. “She won’t listen to someone forever, but gives everybody a fair shot.” These days Tchaikovsky has her hands full with the Western MacArthur Co. Chapter 11 case, believed by many to be the West Coast’s largest bankruptcy case after the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. bankruptcy. When it comes to fees, attorneys describe her as a stickler for the guidelines. “If the guideline says you can charge 10 cents per copy per page and you put 12 cents in, it’s more than likely she’ll find it and tell you about it,” says Buckley. But attorneys say she’s fair, and hardly a zealot obsessed with slashing compensation requests at every turn. Outside the courtroom, Tchaikovsky is an inveterate athlete. A former marathon runner, she now devotes her free time to bike riding. (Her husband, Albert Eisentraut, is a well-known builder of custom bike frames.) And, of course, she enjoys music like Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, though if truth be told, she says, she prefers Bach.

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