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U.S. BANKRUPTCY COURT 'Steel judge' Bodoh retires, but schedule remains full



Published: Wed, January 7, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.



An Akron judge has been assigned to take over the WCI bankruptcy case.

By CYNTHIA VINARSKY

VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Judge William Bodoh's lawyer daughter Emily rolls her eyes at the mention of her dad's retirement from the United States Bankruptcy Court here.

"Retirement? Yeah right!," she says with a grin.

True, Judge Bodoh retired Friday after 181/2 years presiding over some of the Mahoning Valley's most notorious bankruptcy cases, but he won't be idle for long.

At 65, the jurist will start two new part-time positions this week, both in the Columbus area.

He'll be teaching law at the Ohio State University School of Law, starting with a spring semester course on complex litigation, and will work with other faculty members to build relationships between the school and Columbus-area judges.

"They've given me quite a title: Adjunct Professor and Distinguished Jurist in Residence," Judge Bodoh said, with a flash of the dry wit that has become his trademark. He said he will be donating his time in the OSU position.

Judge Bodoh also plans to join the Columbus office of the Cincinnati-based law firm of Frost, Brown, Todd LLC where he'll serve as an adviser and mentor to younger attorneys.

He and his wife, Janet, will relocate to the Columbus area from Vienna where they moved when he accepted the Youngstown judgeship in 1985.

Their three adult daughters already live outside the area.

'A sense of accomplishment'

Chief deputy clerk Carol Papalas and others on his staff were glum last week as they helped the longtime judge pack up his belongings for the move, but Judge Bodoh was jubilant.

"I'm not sad. I feel a sense of accomplishment," he said. Judge Bodoh said his role in the construction of the new Nathaniel R. Jones Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse downtown was his most satisfying achievement while in office. The building was dedicated in 2002.

"There are some unfinished cases on the docket," he acknowledged, "but there would have been unfinished cases even if they carried me out feet first."

One high-profile case still pending on the Youngstown court's docket is the Chapter 11 bankruptcy case of WCI Steel in Warren, one of the region's largest employers with 1,800 workers.

When the company filed its petitions in September, Judge Bodoh said, he thought about staying until the case was over. "I decided it didn't make sense. I knew WCI wouldn't be the last big Chapter 11 case. It was time to go."

Finding a replacement

The selection process for Judge Bodoh's successor began last fall and five candidates are under consideration. He expects the appointment to be announced in the spring or early summer.

In the meantime, Judge Marilyn Shea-Stonum of Akron has been assigned the WCI case. Judge Bodoh said she and the six other federal bankruptcy court judges in Toledo, Cleveland and Canton will hear his other corporate Chapter 11 cases until a replacement is named.

The judges may come to Youngstown for hearings, or they may use the available technology to conduct hearings here while they remain in their home courtrooms. The new federal courthouse is equipped with video-conferencing equipment.

Two retired bankruptcy court judges, Burton Perlman of Cincinnati and William Clark of Dayton, will handle his docket of personal bankruptcy cases.

Steel cases

Judge Bodoh has been called the "steel judge" because he has heard so many steel mill bankruptcy cases -- seven that he can recall, including the massive LTV Steel case, his largest ever.

He also presided over the Chapter 11 case of CSC Ltd. in Warren. The steel bar mill eventually liquidated in the fall of 2002, leaving more than 1,300 workers jobless.

The judge said he believes his retirement will have no effect on the outcome of the WCI case, and he remains "very optimistic" the Warren steelmaker will succeed in its plan to reorganize and emerge from Chapter 11 as a more competitive company.

"I think the business is a solid one. From the start, as I've seen it, there has been a very cooperative effort between management and labor to work together to see that everything that can possibly done will be done in support of the business reorganizing," he said.

"The business, I think, is well-managed. It has to be a cooperative effort by the management, the employees and the financial interests. All three working together are the key to success, and I see that here."

Could WCI be acquired by another, larger steelmaker? Judge Bodoh acknowledged that it's a possibility but said he has no knowledge of any company's plan to buy the Warren mill and reiterated the company's claim that it plans to remain a stand-alone business.

"If they can come up with a plan to reorganize and can insure that their market remains and their order book remains as strong as it has been, perhaps they can survive as a stand-alone business," he said.

Hobbies

Judge Bodoh said he's hoping to fit some of his hobbies around his new work schedule.

He's an enthusiastic cook and enjoys fly-fishing, and he also refurbishes old cars. His latest auto project is a 1963 Triumph TR4, which he's rebuilding with the help of technicians at High-Tech Automotive in Hubbard. "I do the mechanical work," he said.

vinarsky@vindy.com




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