A Practical Star for Oregon and the Country: U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Elizabeth Perris

Educator

Perris’s accomplishments in providing continuing legal education to lawyers and judges are remarkable. Early on in her career, while serving on the CLE committee for the Oregon State Bar, she spearheaded efforts to start the CLE Season Pass, which allowed those who were interested to attend as many CLE programs as they wanted at a set price. Judge Perris noted, “I thought people ought to be able to get all the education they could endure.”

A Famous Cases panel discussion about the Oregon Archdiocese bankruptcy, June 2014. L to R, Erin Olson, Albert E. Kennedy, Judge Elizabeth Perris, Howard Levine, and Tom Dulcich. Photo by Owen Schmidt

She was a favorite and frequent speaker at numerous local CLE programs on bankruptcy and creditor’s rights. Judge Perris also served on the faculty of the Federal Judicial Center, where she and a handful of other experienced judges were responsible for putting on educational programs for bankruptcy judges around the country. As a regular instructor at “baby judge school” (aka Orientation Seminar for Newly Appointed Bankruptcy Judges) she became known to new judges around the country. Judge Perris also traveled through international organizations to teach the basics of bankruptcy and commercial law to judges in Palestine, Macedonia, and Romania. She taught basic bankruptcy and advanced bankruptcy courses at Lewis and Clark Law School and Willamette Law School.  With three other writers, she co-authored the third edition of Bankruptcy: Materials and Cases, a textbook on bankruptcy law for law students.

Judge Perris was appointed to the National Rules Committee for bankruptcy and chaired the National Forms Modernization Committee, which worked from 2008 until December 2015 to modernize the national bankruptcy forms. Goals included making the national forms more user-friendly and the data more easily extracted for record-keeping and research purposes. She remembers many 6:00 a.m. telephone meetings with other members of the committee, most of whom were on the East Coast.

Judge Perris is a strong supporter of access to justice. She was instrumental in starting the Pro Bono Clinic for bankruptcy clients, a program jointly administered by the Debtor Creditor Section of the Oregon State Bar and Legal Aid Services of Oregon. This program has provided access to bankruptcy legal representation for thousands of individuals who otherwise could not have afforded basic legal services.

Settlement Judge/Mediator

Along with her many other accomplishments, Judge Perris may be best known in the bankruptcy community for her expertise as a settlement judge/mediator. She was in high demand locally for settlement conferences in many Oregon bankruptcy cases.  Building on that expertise, and her national reputation, Perris was called on to mediate significant municipal bankruptcy cases in other jurisdictions. Those cases included the City of Vallejo, California, the Town of Mammoth Lakes, California, the City of Stockton, California, and most notably the City of Detroit, Michigan. As the only bankruptcy judge appointed to the mediation team for the Detroit bankruptcy, Perris was instrumental in assisting the parties and the court in getting Detroit’s bankruptcy plan approved in prompt fashion.

Awards, Recognition, Retirement

Judge Perris has been honored with numerous awards by local and national organizations. Those awards include the Award of Merit given by the Debtor Creditor Section of the Oregon State Bar, the Pro Bono Award given by the Multnomah Bar Association, and many other State Bar recognitions. Recently, Perris was awarded the prestigious Distinguished Service Award by the American College of Bankruptcy. The College is an invitation-only organization of the most highly respected bankruptcy professionals around the country.  The Distinguished Service Award is essentially its “lifetime achievement award.”

Bev Schnabel and Judge Elizabeth Perris at a retirement party held in February 2015.

In 2014, Judge Perris decided it was time to retire and enjoy her hobbies of traveling, hiking, skiing, and spending time with her wife Bev Schnabel. During most of their years together, same-sex marriage was outlawed. Perris and Schnabel were married in Oregon during a brief period when Multnomah County issued same-sex marriage licenses in March and April 2004.  After the courts declared the Multnomah County marriages invalid, the couple married again in Canada, surrounded by family and friends. Perris fought a long battle to get Bev the benefits to which spouses are entitled from the federal government, rights equal to any other spouse. Perris ultimately succeeded in obtaining benefits for Bev after the 2013 Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the limitation on providing benefits to same-sex spouses.  Sadly, Bev passed away in October 2017 after a long illness.

Most of All, a Trial Judge

Ninth Circuit Judge Randy Smith has referred to Judge Perris as a “star.” The bar in Oregon did not see her accomplishments as a judicial teacher, or as a mediator in the municipal bankruptcy cases. What they saw, day in and day out, was a bankruptcy judge who was well prepared, fair to all parties, compassionate to debtors, and had an uncanny understanding of the practicalities of a case. She never lost sight of her most important job, to serve the court and litigants in Oregon in a fair and timely manner.