PG&E will have a familiar face presiding over its second bankruptcy in 18 years.
Dennis Montali, whom practitioners call the dean of the northern California bankruptcy bench, will once again handle the utility’s proposed reorganization.
Technically, Montali isn’t even done with the first one yet. He approved PG&E’s earlier 2003 reorganization plan, but the case remains open, which isn’t unusual in big bankruptcies, according to Jared Ellias, a bankruptcy law professor at UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
“It was a fascinating experience, and dominated my professional life for quite a while, and it was a tremendously interesting case in many respects,” Montali said in a 2014 interview with Receivership News.
His prior experience with PG&E will give Montali a leg up in the latest bankruptcy filing, attorney Rob Harris of Binder Malter LLP, Santa Clara, Calif., told Bloomberg Law.
PG&E’s earlier case gives the judge valuable “domain knowledge” about the business of supplying energy to millions of consumers, Ellias said.
Bankruptcy judges, like bankruptcy attorneys, are often called upon to learn in short order new businesses, industries, and even law practice areas in the course of a new case, something that the intellectually curious Montali relishes, Harris said.
“He’s as knowledgeable and experienced as anyone in the country with boundless curiosity” and is poised to address the concerns of all stakeholders, including government agencies, energy suppliers and utility rate payers, Harris said.
Montali’s wife told one of his law firm colleagues that he used to read the Bankruptcy Code in the bathtub, The Recorder reported in 2005. Asked about the anecdote by the The Recorder, Montali deadpanned, “Why would I take the code into the bathtub when I’ve already memorized the code?”
Montali is a Bay Area native whose father worked as a liquor distributor and then founded a Berkeley winery, the San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2001. He attended Notre Dame and then served four years in the Navy.
Montali’s interest in bankruptcy law dates back to law school at Berkeley when he began part-time work as a third-year student at a small Bay Area bankruptcy firm on the day of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in April 1968, he told Receivership News.
He returned to that firm soon after graduation and continued to practice bankruptcy law at firms including Pillsbury Madison & Sutro until his appointment as a judge in 1993.
As a judge, he’s overseen several law firm collapses, including Howrey LLP and Heller Ehrman LLP.
He also served for many years on the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel of the Ninth Circuit. The BAP is a special appellate court comprised of bankruptcy judges that hears first level appeals from bankruptcy court decisions. The BAP can be reviewed by the circuit courts.
Off the bench, Montali is an avid sailor. At the age of 17, he served as navigator alongside his parents and younger sister on a 40-foot boat during a 15-day Transpac Race from Los Angeles to Hawaii, he told Receiver News.
The case is In re: PG&E Corporation, Bankr. N.D. Cal., 19-30088, Docket 1/29/19.