Bankruptcy judges have once again bested other federal judges in the District of New Jersey in grades given by the lawyers who appear before them.
Federal court practitioners in this year’s judicial survey gave them an average overall rating of 8.91: better than the 8.73 for magistrate judges, and better still than the 8.28 rating for district judges.
That continues a trend noticeable from the Law Journal‘s last survey, in 2008, when bankruptcy judges were rated 8.71, topping 8.42 for magistrate judges and 8.19 for district judges.
The judges are a seasoned group, with an average of nearly 19 years on the bench.
Rosemary Gambardella and Judith Wizmur are the longest-serving, each with 28 years on the Bankruptcy Court. They are followed by Novalyn Winfield, with 22 years; Gloria Burns and Kathryn Ferguson, each with 20; Donald Steckroth and Morris Stern, each with 12; and Michael Kaplan, with seven.
And they have been together for a long time. The only change to the bench since the 2008 survey was the retirement of Raymond Lyons this past June after 14 years on the bench.
The survey does not include Lyons’ replacement, Christine Gravelle, who took her commission on July 1 and thus has not served long enough to be rated.
Like district and magistrate judges, the bankruptcy judges posted their highest scores for lack of bias and for courtesy toward litigants, 9.33 and 9.17, respectively.
But they got solid grades even in their lowest-rated categories: their skill in helping bring about settlement, 8.46, and their promptness in moving proceedings along and rendering decisions, 8.55.
Their settlement-skills score was 8.33 percent higher than the district judges, and their score for speediness was 10.3 percent better.
The judges collectively drew a grade of 9.09 in the category of knowledge of substantive law, which was 10.36 percent higher than the district judges.
They also scored well in the category of familiarity with briefs, pleadings and court record, with 9.03, which was 7.41 percent higher than the district judges.
Bankruptcy judges of course have the advantage of specialization, compared with district court judges and magistrate judges who must deal with a far wider array of laws and subjects. Bankruptcy judges have generally specialized in that practice field or, as with Gambardella, Kaplan and Winfield, have served as trustees.
Wizmur led all the bankruptcy judges in overall score, with 9.42, and in all categories of achievement except one — substantive lega l knowledge, finishing there a few points behind Morris Stern.
Stern was second in overall score (9.17); Winfield, third (9.00).
There were some low scores. Gambardella was rated the slowest (7.49) and Ferguson the least adept at settlements (7.62).
Gravelle, a 1986 graduate of Suffolk University Law School in Boston, was with Markowitz Gravelle in Lawrenceville. •