April 27, 2015 / 6:47 PM / 4 years ago

Harvey Miller, leading bankruptcy attorney, dies at 82

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Bankruptcy lawyer Harvey Miller, who led Lehman Brothers through its record-breaking Chapter 11 case starting in 2008, has died at 82 after a battle with ALS, his law firm, Weil Gotshal & Manges, announced on Monday.

Miller, dubbed the lion of the bankruptcy bar, helped pioneer the rise of restructuring law as a major practice at many big firms. ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, affects the nervous system and is commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Miller is survived by his wife of 60 years, Ruth Miller.

After joining Weil in 1969, Miller built the firm’s bankruptcy practice into a global powerhouse, playing key roles in the bankruptcies of Lehman, American Airlines, Enron, WorldCom and General Motors Co.

Born in Brooklyn, Miller graduated from Brooklyn College in 1954, then from Columbia Law School in 1959. He taught at Columbia, Yale Law School and New York University School of Law, and is the namesake of Columbia’s Harvey R. Miller Lecture Series, Weil’s statement said.

With Lehman, Miller oversaw the hectic sale of the company’s U.S. brokerage to Barclays PLC and spearheaded a $65 billion restructuring plan that most creditors supported despite sustaining big losses.

Though the case made millions of dollars for Weil, Miller saw the bankruptcy as a symbol of regulatory error, telling Reuters in a 2011 interview that the government’s refusal to bail Lehman out was “a terrible mistake.”

He was troubled, too, by what he perceived as a philosophical shift in recent years in the restructuring framework he helped bring to prominence, as hedge funds have begun to drive cases in a manner more focused on maximizing their profits than salvaging the underlying business.

“I don’t think he was a fan of that change,” former bankruptcy Judge James Peck, who adjudicated Lehman’s Chapter 11 case, told Reuters on Monday.

Miller, a fierce negotiator, was combative at times, famously grabbing one adversary by the collar during the 1990 bankruptcy of Eastern Airlines.

But Peck said Miller “commanded the respect” of his peers, and his tactics often led to compromise.

Jay Goffman, a former Miller colleague who now runs Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom’s bankruptcy practice, said Miller “helped transform the entire nature of restructuring.”

Weil bankruptcy partner Stephen Karotkin called Miller an “incredible mentor and teacher.” “The impact he has had on those with whom he worked ... is unprecedented,” Karotkin said in a statement.

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