Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Harvey Miller RIP

(thanks to New York Times)

The New York Times reported the death of Harvey Miller at 82 from Lou Gehrig's disease.

E.H. Carr who wrote a little book called "What is History?" years ago in the 1960s argued against the great man version of history or otherwise the theory of Cleopatra's Nose (on the basis that no man including Mark Anthony could fail to be attracted to Cleopatra therefore it couldn't be a cause). Yet for those of us interested in the scholarship of the legal profession, it's difficult not to look on Miller's death as a cataclysmic event.

Back in the 1990s by twist of fate I involved myself in a project on the globalization of bankruptcy. No one was researching this area then. Nor did I know much about bankruptcy and insolvency. As I ventured through my research interviews the name of Robert Maxwell cropped up many times as did that of the Reichmann Brothers.

Maxwell was a crook who through financial manipulations of shady trusts ripped off the Daily Mirror pension fund and had the decency to throw himself off his boat. (Who knows? Maybe somebody pushed him.) Maxwell's death started multiple simultaneous bankruptcy cases, especially in the US and the UK.

The Reichmann Brothers built Canary Wharf in London and went bankrupt. But then developers always do. What was remarkable about both was that banks would open their coffers to them and lend them huge amounts of "other people's money" without inspecting their books. This was the heritage of the Thatcher era.

Harvey Miller wasn't in the Maxwell case (although the protagonist of Mitt Regan's book, "Eat What You Kill" was and I interviewed him too about the same time), but he was in the Olympia & York case involving Canary Wharf. What brought the cases together was that they were multinational, required courts in different jurisdictions to cooperate with each other, and necessitated professionals from different countries and backgrounds to try and understand each other. None of this was easy.

In the case of Maxwell the development of the Protocol--a document that attempted to bring together lawyers and accountants from the US and UK in a mediated peace process thereby avoiding litigation--its success led to it being adopted by others such as those in Olympia & York.

I had arranged to interview Miller one afternoon in New York. My morning interview surprised me because that lawyer had had a bit of rough and tumble with Harvey in court one time and he gazed on me as if I would get the same treatment.

Harvey Miller had his own conference room and although I had "booked" only an hour with him he gave me around two to three hours of his time. It turned out his wife, Ruth, was a sociologist.

I learned so much that afternoon: about how bankruptcy eventually became respectable, how Jews had dominated the field because of exclusion from mainstream fields of law, and how these very bankruptcy lawyers were the ones who helped create Chapter 11 in the US. It was one of those stories that sweep before you.

I was so lucky to get that interview, which started me off on some new tracks, despite feeling vertiginous looking out of Miller's window (above) down at Central Park.

Harvey Miller always provided. On his return from the investment bank, Greenhill, he was plunged into Lehman Brothers chaos. In his 70s he was pulling long, long working days.

He created the bankruptcy field and he dominated it. And he's one of those people you can't help admiring.


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