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Edwin H. Caldie: The Boy's in the Band

Edwin Caldie © DnK Photography

Ed Caldie is a partner with Stinson Leonard Street in Minneapolis. He represents creditors’ committees, trustees, financial institutions, individual creditors, corporate debtors, buyers, servicers, public companies, investment funds, and others in complex bankruptcies, workout scenarios, insolvency situations, and related issues and disputes. His practice typically involves distressed assets and companies, commercial workouts, and Chapter 11 bankruptcies involving bond defaults or other complex structures.

Caldie routinely counsels Fortune 500 companies, unsecured creditors’ committees, oil and gas companies, trustees, lenders and other financial institutions, equipment lessors, public companies, corporate debtors, and other secured and unsecured creditors in a wide variety of Chapter 11 bankruptcies, civil lawsuits, workouts, commercial disputes, and negotiations. He has successfully represented his clients in a wide range of insolvency proceedings, disputes, workouts, and negotiations in cases heard in Minnesota, Delaware, the Southern District of New York, and elsewhere across the country.

Q: How did you gravitate into turnaround/restructuring work?

Caldie: I started at Winston & Strawn as a general commercial litigator. I was lucky enough to do a whole bunch of great things there. Among them was some bankruptcy litigation. We had some fun with that case, and I learned a little bit about bankruptcy in the process.

When I moved with my family back to Minnesota from Washington, D.C., in July 2008, there was a lot going on in the bankruptcy and restructuring realm. I was moving halfway across the country and was in need of a job, so I highlighted that previous experience in my resume and in my cover letters. As a result, I ended up doing a lot of that sort of work when I arrived back in Minnesota.

Q: What have been some of your favorite or most gratifying cases along the way?

Caldie: The most gratifying cases are extremely easy to identify. We have the honor of representing the unsecured creditors’ committees in several Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases for Catholic dioceses and other entities. The creditors’ committees in those cases are all comprised of survivors of clergy sexual abuse. There are 444 claimants who came forward in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Chapter 11 case alone.

Q: Those aren’t your typical bankruptcy cases. Did you go into them with any trepidation?

Caldie: I definitely went in with trepidation, but that trepidation arose solely from my fear that I would not be able to do the claimants justice, that I would fail in that regard. That has only intensified throughout the cases because it has been incredibly rewarding and inspiring to get to know these people. I know people use these words all the time, but—other than being a father—it has been the biggest honor of my life to represent these people and associate with them and try to share some humble fraction of the burden they carry all the time, a burden that too many of them have carried for decades.

Q: What have you learned from them, or what do you admire most about them?

Caldie: I think as a group what I admire is their bravery and their perseverance. Difficult circumstances and tragedies often cause people to dig deeper into who they are and how they interface with the world, and pretty much to a survivor, I cannot think of a group of people who have had to dig deeper and carry a heavier burden for a longer period of time. They are deep, authentic, and brave people, and I have learned how to be deeper, more authentic, and braver through their example.

Q: Did living with cases like these shake any faith that you had?

Caldie: I would say that I became simultaneously more cynical and more hopeful as a result of my involvement with all of this.

We have a settlement in principle in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis case. We filed a plan six or seven weeks ago, and we’re now working closely with the Archdiocese and two or three dozen insurance companies to finalize the terms of all the settlements. We have high-level terms locked down, and we filed a plan that outlines those terms.

Q: How long has the case been going on?

Caldie:It was filed in January 2015, so 3½ years and counting.

Q: That was a weighty case. Any others that you found particularly gratifying?

Caldie: I love complexity. We have represented a lot of unsecured creditors’ committees in more traditional commercial cases as well. I’ve taken a lead role in a lot of those, and I’ve loved them. I think the variation of interests in the creditor body, the permutations of incentives of all of the different parties in a Chapter 11, is just really cool. Trying to navigate all that and find ways to turn the Rubik’s Cube so as many parties can have as much of what they want as possible is a very engaging and often gratifying pursuit. It’s really fun to represent committees.

It’s also really fun to represent debtors. We’ve done relatively fewer debtor cases, but we do represent Chapter 11 debtors—we reorganized a retailer last year and took another through an orderly liquidation process. That was a rather big one, the Wynit Distribution case. The company had shut down before they retained us, so we knew it was going to be an orderly liquidation, but it was tremendously complicated, with novel legal issues related to consignment and the scope of liens.

Wynit was what some people somewhat pejoratively call a middleman in the retail industry. They buy from suppliers, such as Apple, Fitbit, etc., and then they sell to retailers. Many of the supplier transactions are titled “consignment,” but the way that they were done raised a legal question as to whether the goods were truly subject to a consignment arrangement.

Those purported consignor parties were pushing hard to get paid in full and get their unsold merchandise back. We fought about that because we were trying to sell those goods and pay all creditors. Those issues were largely settled without having the court issue decisions on them, but they made for a fascinating few months at the end of 2017.

Q: What have been the key milestones in your career that have made you the professional you are today?

Caldie: Our industry is like a lot of professional industries—it all boils down to people and relationships. The milestones in my career have been relationships that I’ve had that have deepened me and educated me. The relate back to my early years—they relate back to my childhood—but I would say, focusing on my career, it would relate back to Winston & Strawn. When I first started in bankruptcy, Eric Bloom, a partner there, taught me how to balance being a human being with being an effective commercial litigator. I will be forever indebted to him for that.

There was also a mentor of mine, Connie Lahn, who’s now the managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg’s office here in Minneapolis. She taught me to dig deeper and expect more out of myself. She was a rigorous boss and a tremendously effective and dogged attorney, and I learned a ton from her about what I was capable of.

The third, I would say, is Rob Kugler, who is my friend and mentor here at Stinson Leonard Street. He’s taught me how to think and strategize at a high level. In-the-weeds analytical skills tended to be stronger for me early in my career. He taught me how to maintain those strengths while simultaneously moving up to the 50,000-foot level where it is possible to see and assess the entire chess board. Without making that jump, I don’t think you really can become an effective complex Chapter 11 attorney.

Q: What role, if any, has your TMA membership played along the way?

Caldie: I think it’s all too easy to isolate ourselves as professionals. We’re all busy. We all have many facets to our lives, and you tend to get buried in routine. It’s all too easy to neglect relationships, and those relationships can too easily fall by the wayside as you engage in your daily battles with whatever dragons pop up. Organizations like TMA remind us to remain connected and to learn from other people. And they create opportunities to establish connections and learn things that you wouldn’t learn otherwise, so I think TMA’s tremendously valuable.

Q: What advice would you have for someone who is new to the industry or was thinking about getting into the industry?

Caldie: I’m going to say, “Don’t know better.” This is advice given to me once by someone who believed that his most important opportunities had arisen from circumstances when he had just walked up to people or knocked on doors or picked up the phone when it was probably very gutsy to do so—and when he probably should’ve known better. If you think to make a phone call and make a personal connection, don’t question whether it’s appropriate or traditional. Make the phone call. If you think, “Gee, I wonder if I can handle this case. It’s a bit more complex than anything I’ve done before,” take the case. Don’t “know better.” Get in there and find out who you are and what you can do, because, 99 times out of 100, you will find a way.

If you think, “I can’t develop business. I don’t know how to develop business,” you’re already beaten. But if you don’t know better and you just start being yourself and engaging as if you don’t have any of those insecurities or second thoughts, suddenly you find that you have a book of business and a network of people who don’t feel like inauthentic business contacts. They feel like people with whom you have actual human relationships. They get to know and trust you. They get to know that your judgment is sound.

Attorneys tend to reflect too much. I say, don’t know better. Go forth proudly with belief in yourself.

Edwin Caldie

Q: What do you like to do outside the office? You mentioned being in a band, and I saw that you were on the board for the Theatre in the Round Players in Minneapolis.

Caldie: I used to be, but I’m not anymore. The number one thing that I like to do is the reason I’m not on the board at the Theatre in the Round anymore, and that is I love being a daddy. I have three kids—they’re 11, 10, and 4—and never have I had better, humbler, more gentle mentors and teachers. They deepen me and teach me every day.

I also have always loved writing and performing music. I play guitar and piano, and I sing.

Q: What kind of music do you like to write?

Caldie: The question’s hard to answer in the way you’ve framed it. The way it works is something comes out. I don’t know where it comes from. That’s a completely inadequate explanation, but I don’t know how else to describe it. All I know is that, at the beginning of the writing process, there’s just a hazy idea with emotion attached to it. Then I start to hear sounds, and I sit down with an instrument and start tinkering with it or playing with lyrical content in my head and usually a melody naturally, all by itself, just sort of attaches to it. My writing process feels like I’m finding the song in a foggy mess. More than writing, it feels like I’m trying to get rid of the fog and clean up the mess so that I can see and hear what the song already is.

Q: Do you collaborate with someone regularly, or do you write on your own?

Caldie: I’m trying to collaborate more. I’m the lead singer and piano player in a band. Another guy in the band, Joel Leviton, and I each write about half of the songs. Joel is also an attorney at Stinson Leonard Street. Collaborating on songwriting is not easy because it’s hard to find the boundaries. You both want to control certain parts of it, and you don’t care so much about other parts of it. Generally speaking, historically I’ve written alone and then brought it to other musicians to refine or to add their two cents. Joel and I are trying to find a cooperative process.

There is another Stinson attorney in the band, by the way, Ben Court. He’s a fantastic lead guitar player, but please don’t tell him I said that. The other members of the band are Jason Kapel and David Hoffman, who play bass and drums, respectively. They aren’t attorneys. They like to say they’re “actual human beings.” Everyone loves a joke at a layer’s expense, right?

Q: What’s the name of your band, and how long have you guys been together?

Caldie: The band is Circus of the West, and it’s coming up on four years.

Q: How did that come about?

Caldie: Joel stopped by my office one day. I had never seen him before. He had recently come to Stinson from Fish & Richardson, and he does intellectual property work relating mostly to trademark and copyright issues. He said, “Can you sing?” And I said, “I can.” He said, “Well, I can’t. I’ve had a band for a long time, and I’m giving up on the singing part.”

I think we had a beer that day and talked about it, and then I went over to his house that Sunday and then continued to do that regularly for a couple of years. We played in the basement and slowly started revealing what we were doing to other people. They weren’t completely disgusted.

The first thing we did to introduce the band was to rent a dance studio with a really cool layout and funky décor. We threw a party. We had a PA system, and we rented some lights and invited everybody we could think of and told them it was going to be free wine and beer. About 300 or 350 people came. It was crazy. After that we started playing in more traditional venues where we didn’t have to pay for everything. And people still came. It was amazing!

Locally, we most recently played at a place called Icehouse, which is a great venue in Minneapolis, and our awesome supporters sold it out. We got reviewed in a couple of blogs. It was great, and it’s just been a ton of fun.

Q: Out of that party, you guys decided to give music a go?

Caldie: We played that show and then scheduled another for the fall. We booked a show at a place called the Turf Club, which is just a super, super old rock ‘n’ roll club in St. Paul. We got a couple of bands to play with us on a Saturday night, and we darn near sold that out.

We decided to make a record, and we reached out to a local legendary songwriter and producer, Adam Levy, who played and sang in the Honeydogs. We learned a ton from him. I got to spend 150 hours or so with a childhood hero, someone I admire greatly in the music industry. He did a great job and enhanced our songs a lot. He added a lot of value.

We released this record in May 2017 and learned how all that worked firsthand in a very much do-it-yourself way. We had a record release show at First Avenue’s 7th Street Entry, which is a small rock club next to the one that Prince made famous.

A music promotion company in Minneapolis, Tinderbox Music, promoted our record to radio, and it was played on over 60 college radio stations. It was in the top 20 on a bunch of them and broke the top 100 college records nationwide. It amounts to virtually zero revenue, but it was still fun, really still cool that people were listening to it and liked it. We did a couple of radio station interviews because our record was number one on their stations for a time. I went to Boston for one of the interviews. We were also just asked to visit Stanford’s college radio station to do another interview in San Francisco sometime in the near future.

Public and college radio stations, in general, are one of the great, largely unacknowledged cultural goldmines left in our changing world, and they remain the lifeblood of independent music.

Q: I understand you played in Austin, Texas, during South by Southwest earlier this year.

Caldie: We did. It was the realization of a lifelong dream for most of us. There are about four blocks on 6th Street in Austin where all the live music bars are, and a great company called Red Gorilla books bands for all of these bars. We played four shows on 6th Street, right at the 50-yard line of the festival, with tens of thousands of people walking around. We’d play for 30 people one show, and then the next show would be packed. You just never knew what to expect.

We played at a place called the San Jac Saloon. It was decently crowded, and a lot of people had positive comments afterward. A number of them were quite emotional about our song “Resurrection,” which Joel and I wrote from the perspective of survivors of clergy abuse, based on my experience in the Archdiocese and other Catholic bankruptcy case.

Q: Is this something you guys just want to do as a hobby? If it really took off, would you suddenly not be lawyers anymore and instead be in the music business?

Caldie: We have a significantly higher chance of being struck by lightning than of this taking off in way that would justify us leaving our careers. If you’re starting out to try to make a living in the music industry at our age, with our life obligations, it’s just a recipe for depression and disappointment. I think what you have to do is look at it as a passion and find joy in the doing of it, and if something happens, it happens.

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