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U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kay Woods retiring

Legal News Reporter

Published: July 5, 2018

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kay Woods said she didn’t initially plan to enter the legal profession, but once she chose law she decided to focus on bankruptcy because she believed it would allow her to have a positive impact on people’s lives.

“Although I have presided over a number of heartbreaking cases over the years, bankruptcy enables debtors to achieve a fresh start,” said Judge Woods, who is located in Youngstown and hears matters filed in the Northern District of Ohio. “This is what makes bankruptcy law very rewarding.

“I have always tried to administer and apply the law so that debtors and creditors are treated fairly.”

Now after 14 years on the bench, Judge Woods is retiring on July 6.

“I’ve had a wonderful career, but I chose not to seek reappointment,” said Judge Woods. “I am 66 years old and my husband is already retired. I have the cutest grandson in Iowa and I want to spend more time with him and my family as well as travel.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Harris said Judge Woods has been “a wonderful colleague and we will all miss her.

“She took on various administrative positions with the court and with the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, while maintaining good control over her docket.”

Judge Harris said because filings are down across the northern district, her vacancy will not be filled immediately.

Born in Van Wert, Ohio, Judge Woods is the second oldest of four children. She moved to Lima when she was in the eighth grade, graduating from Shawnee High School.

She attended Bowling Green State University, where she majored in English and minored in journalism.

“When I was in college I thought I would teach English, but when I graduated in 1973 the labor market was tight and my degree did not seem particularly valuable.”

Instead, she served as an editor for several weekly newspapers and then decided to take a job as a paralegal in Lima, which she said changed her career plans.

“I worked for a sole practitioner for a year and I decided to go to law school,” said Judge Woods.

Prior to enrolling at the school now known as The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, she was a documents librarian at the Ohio Supreme Court Law Library and served as an administrative specialist in the Transportation Section of the Ohio Attorney General’s Office.

After receiving her juris doctor in 1981, she started as an associate in the Cleveland office of Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue (now Jones Day), where she focused on litigation.

Several years later she left Jones Day to take a position as an in-house litigator for LTV Steel.

During her 17-year career, she became associate general counsel and was involved in preparing pleadings and resolving claims for two LTV bankruptcy filings, resulting in her developing an affinity for bankruptcy law.

“The first filing was in 1986 and I appeared in front of the late Judge Burton Lifland, a preeminent federal bankruptcy judge,” she said.

Judge Lifland handled many prominent cases, including the claims filed by investors in the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme.

“Judge Lifland was an exceptional judge,” she said. “I greatly admired him. I have tried to emulate his preparedness and fairness.”

Her predecessor, Judge William Bodoh, presided over LTV’s second filing.

“Both bankruptcies were key in preparing me to become a judge,” said Judge Woods.

A few years later, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals appointed Judge Woods to the bench. She was sworn in on July 7, 2004.

Judge Woods said her very first trial turned out to be a significant one.

The case (Barrett v. Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp.) involved plaintiff-debtor Thomas Barrett, who had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and was seeking to discharge over $300,000 in debt, including two student loans totaling almost $95,000.

“Mr. Barrett had very significant medical problems and was unable to pay the student loans,” said Judge Woods. “The defendant’s position was that he needed expert testimony to corroborate his medical condition, which he could not afford.

“My position was that he did not,” she said. “The case was appealed to the 6th Circuit and they affirmed my decision.”

Judge Woods also presided over the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of Forum Health.

“Forum was a significant employer and operated three hospitals in the Mahoning Valley. It was sold to ValleyCare and all the jobs were able to be preserved, which I was very happy about.”

Retired U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Marilyn Shea-Stonum served on the bench with Judge Woods in the Northern District of Ohio for a number of years.

“I was located in Akron, however, so our contact was somewhat limited,” said Judge Shea-Stonum, who has known Judge Woods since they both worked at Jones Day.

“Kay has a strong belief that people deserve to be heard,” she said. “If either party requested oral argument or an evidentiary hearing, she never hesitated to schedule it. She wanted to make sure everyone got their day in court.”

Both judges were members of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges.

“Kay was generous with her time,” said Judge Shea-Stonum. “She was the editor-in-chief of the newsletter. When she no longer served as editor, she contributed to a column called ‘Snippets.’ It consisted of stories about bankruptcy judges across the country and it provided a real sense of community among the judges.”

Judge Woods and her husband, retired workers’ compensation attorney Herman Carach, live in Canfield.

Together they have three adult children from previous marriages.

Her son Michael and his wife Robyn live in Urbandale, Iowa and have one son, Owen.

Michael is a data scientist at John Deere Financial and is working on his doctorate in business administration at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.

Her stepson Christopher is a chemical engineer at Intel in Portland, Oregon and her stepson Matthew is a certified public accountant and works for EY (Ernst & Young) in Cleveland.

“Kay has always been very passionate about seeing justice done,” said Carach, who retired as a partner from Boyd, Rummell, Carach, Curry, Kaufmann & Bins-Castronovo Co. in February 2017.

“She is generous with her time, talent and money,” said Carach. “She volunteers at Catholic Charities and is very active in her church, Westminster Presbyterian Church.

“She is a very good person and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” he said. “We are looking forward to spending more time with our family once she steps down in July.”

Scott Serfozo, a career law clerk for Judge Woods, said he is sorry to see her leave.

“Judge Woods has been my primary mentor since I graduated law school over eight years ago and took the job at the court,” said Serfozo. “She has an open door policy and is willing to share her insights with me or anyone who might have questions.

“I appreciate her willingness to take the time out of her busy schedule to help me improve as a person and a lawyer.”

“I’ve enjoyed my time on the bench very much and it has been a privilege to serve,” said Judge Woods. “It has been very rewarding and intellectually challenging.”

The Nathaniel R. Jones Inn of Court hosted a retirement party for Judge Woods June 28 at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown.