Women in restructuring represent a growing and ever-important part of our professional community worldwide, and we at TMA are ever-proud of these members’ accomplishments. As we approach our TMA NOW Summit, one of most engaged and connected conferences of the year, I wanted to share one of the most impactful and important moments of my career. Cecelia Goetz was a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in the Eastern District of New York and my mentor. Though I probably didn’t even realize she was mentoring me at the time, what she did for me set me up for professional success for a lifetime.
Judge Goetz beat the odds in an era in which few women rose to the level of success which defined her career and set the foundation for all women for generations to come. Judge Goetz’s story is extraordinary because her efforts helped forge the path to a more inclusive legal profession. One of only a few women in her class at the prestigious NYU School of Law, she was the salutatorian of the class of 1940 and became the first woman to serve as editor-in-chief of the school’s Law Review.
Notwithstanding the career limitations she faced because of her gender, Judge Goetz joined the U.S. Department of Justice Solicitor’s Office and later was the first woman to be offered a supervisory role at Justice. Declining that position, she instead set her sights on joining the prosecution team for the Nuremberg trials. And she did, despite fierce opposition from within the War Department to the appointment of a woman to a senior position at Nuremburg.
In 1978, Judge Goetz was appointed the first woman bankruptcy judge in the Eastern District of New York. She was highly regarded for her respect for the law and the high expectations she set for all those who worked for her and appeared before her.
I first encountered Judge Goetz in 1991. After being appointed to a senior attorney role at the Office of the United States Trustee, I was quickly warned to always be prepared when I appeared in her courtroom or face the wrath of this storied and smart woman. My defining moment with Judge Goetz came in July 1992, when an airline which was in Chapter 11 shut down with no notice to the flying public. The judge reached out and informed me that she expected my immediate response to this critical situation.
Two days later, a Sunday, I appeared at the courthouse and handed her appropriate legal pleadings to address the situation. When I told her I would serve them after she reviewed and signed them, her response changed my professional career forever. She told me she would sign the papers without reviewing them. Should there be a problem or if an issue was improperly addressed, she said, it would surely be raised in what would be a packed courtroom that Tuesday morning.
At that moment, I realized this judge had such a level of faith in my abilities that just as she had pushed herself through self-imposed barriers, she was going to push me through mine as well. Judge Goetz, my mentor and friend, saw in me, as young attorney, what I was not yet ready to see in myself. She pushed me to be better. She expected in everyone around her the excellence that had propelled this woman for the ages to great successes.
Judge Goetz reminded me that, as a woman, she faced challenges greater than I ever would, though she never uttered those words to me. Most importantly, she taught me to stand shoulder to shoulder with all professionals in an even-handed manner and to be blind to what those around me might think of others’ abilities based on gender, race, or religion. I am proud to have had a mentor that in a moment propelled me into a most special and unforgettable place.
Today, I celebrate the women of this organization who each and every day empower each other, create opportunity, and continue to move us toward collective equality and respect. Thank you, Judge Goetz, for empowering me to be a better person. And thank you to the women of TMA for embracing that energy and spirt, which has become pervasive throughout our global community. It makes me, and all of our members, TMA proud!