Judge to Mediator
Former Bankruptcy Judge Timothy Corcoran opened a mediation practice following his unplanned retirement from the bench.
By Hali White
Timothy Corcoran says he was a superb judge in Tampa's Middle District bankruptcy court. Furthermore, he adds, "superb" lawyers will attest to that. He scoffs at old newspaper reports that he was something of a rules stickler with control freak tendencies.
"I read that I don't permit paper clips," Corcoran, 57, says recently from the 25th floor of his new downtown Tampa office where he works as a sole practitioner.
"I have no notion where that came from - no basis in fact. I never said anything about paper clips; never endorsed them nor banned them. All you can do is laugh when you read silliness like that."
Luis Martinez-Monfort, a board member of the Tampa Bay Bankruptcy Bar Association, says he had good and bad days in front of Judge Corcoran. Yes, the judge reprimanded him in open court. But he maintains he was treated fairly.
"I never felt he spoke out of line, or was demeaning or insulting. I'd say the exact opposite," Martinez-Monfort says.
"My first hearings were in front of him. He was very patient with me, a young attorney, very open to working with me."
Says Corcoran: "As a judge, I tried to follow the established rules of procedure so that I could be very predictable. Lawyers knew exactly what I expected of them and could predict how I'd rule."
He remains philosophical about his reputation.
"There's an enormous amount of self-satisfaction that comes from contributing to our community," Corcoran says. "That's well worth the personal sacrifices that public servants are required to make. They're in the public eye and subjected to criticism. That's part of the territory and you accept that and do your best."
Corcoran's new gig - as a mediator in solo practice - will likely bring less media glare than his high profile stint on the bench, where he presided over the bankruptcy of Braniff Airways, and more recently, the reorganization of Tampa's Anchor Glass Corp.
Corcoran was appointed to the bankruptcy court in 1989 after 14 years in the Tampa office of Carlton Fields. He was originally appointed to the Orlando district where he served four years before transferring to Tampa. After completing a 14-year term, Corcoran announced his retirement to the Tampa Bay Bankruptcy Bar Association in February: "Although I notified the court that I was willing to accept reappointment, I understand that reappointment will not be forthcoming."
Corcoran officially retired Aug. 11 and began his new practice four days later. He plans to handle mediations, and commercial and business litigation in state and federal court. He is precluded, of course, from serving as a lawyer in any case that he presided over as a judge, but has no other restrictions.
He rents space in Tampa's so-called beer can building from the law firm of Jennis & Bowen. So far his clients have been referred by other Tampa Bay area attorneys and range from individuals to businesses, including banks.
So what makes Corcoran a good mediator?
"I was a lawyer for 30 years, 14 of those involved my role as a judge," he says. "I've seen disputes in all different facets from all different perspectives."
He helps parties evaluate strengths and weaknesses of their case so they can make sound business decisions, he says. "More often than not, clients are best advised to resolve the disputes they have rather than let them be solved (by the court)," he says.
The hardest part of the transition from public to private employment has been convincing local attorneys to consider him a peer, he says. "The first thing I did was tell all the lawyers my name is Tim, not Judge," Corcoran says. "My colleagues have had more difficulty making that adjustment."
Otherwise, he has been surprised at the amount of day-to-day contact he has with the world at large since leaving the bowels of the federal courthouse.
"Judges truly are isolated," he says. "While serving as a judge, I didn't appreciate how isolated I'd become."
Born in Kansas City, Mo., Corcoran grew up in Washington D.C., where, perhaps inevitably, he became interested in government and politics. Corcoran didn't know exactly what lawyers did, but he knew they were somehow involved in both. That was enough reason to choose the law as his future profession; there were no other influences.
"To my knowledge, the first day I ever met a lawyer was my first day of law school," he says. After graduating in 1973 from law school, he served two years as a law clerk to Judge William Terrell Hodges before joining Carlton Fields. There, he handled commercial litigation, bankruptcy, environmental litigation and administrative and family law. He is AV rated.
Corcoran is the recipient of the 1980 Red McEwen Outstanding Lawyer Award, given by the Hillsborough County Bar Association, of which he is a past president; the 1981 recipient of the Florida Bar's Most Productive Young Lawyer; and the 2002 recipient of the HCBA's Robert W. Patton Outstanding Jurist Award.
Cathy Peek McEwen, immediate past president of the Tampa Bay Bankruptcy Bar Association, points to the 2002 award as evidence that Corcoran improved during his years on the bench.
"Everybody might make mistakes early in their career," McEwen says. "Maybe he did but he certainly outgrew it. I made a lot of dumb arguments when I was a baby lawyer."
Before law school, Corcoran served in the Navy, including two tours of duty in Vietnam, earning the Air Medal and Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device. He retired in 1991 as an officer from the Navy Reserve.
Corcoran, divorced from Clearwater attorney Sally Harris Foote ("a wonderful woman; we just couldn't live together"), lives in Tampa. To relax, the former jurist plays piano, golf and tennis - and drinks the occasional beer.