Bankruptcy and commercial law have long been interests of Robert
D. Martin 66.
earning his juris doctorate from the University of Chicago, he went
to work for a firm in Madison, Wis. As the least senior attorney
he was often assigned to represent clients in bankruptcy hearings.
While many of his colleagues steered clear of this type of law,
Martin really enjoyed it. He attended seminars and wo rkshops to
build on his foundation in contract and commercial law.
In 1978, he was appointed Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the estern
District of Wisconsin. He also serves extensively by designation
to the bankruptcy courts in the Northern Districts of Iowa and Illinois.
He is former president of the National Conference of Bankruptcy
Judges, a conferee in the National Bankruptcy Conference, and a
member of the Board of Directors of the Turnaround Management Association.
Judge Martin is co-author of Ginsberg & Martin on Bankruptcy
(Aspen Law & Business, 2000) with the Hon. Robert E. Ginsberg;
Secured Transactions Handbook for Wisconsin Lawyers and Lenders
(University of Wisconsin Law School, 1990) with the Hon. John K.
Pearson; and a contributing author to Norton Bankruptcy Law and
Practice and Norton Bankruptcy Law Advisor.
Hes taught at the University of Wisconsin Law School, has
been a faculty member of the Federal Judicial Center School for
Newly Appointed Judges, and lectures on bankruptcy and commercial
Judge Martin and his wife, Ruth Haberma Martin 66,
have three sons, Jacob, Matthew, and David, and are expecting their
first grandchild in September. A former Cornell football center,
Judge Martin now enjoys playing golf and tennis.
The Case: Tak Communications Inc. and
Tak Broadcasting Corp., Debtor
Tak Communications and Tak Broadcasting Corp.collectively
known as Takowned and operated several television and radio
stations prior to Jan. 3, 1991, when it filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
On Nov. 10, 1992, a committee of creditors and lenders filed a
joint plan of reorganization that called for Taks Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) license to be transferred to a single,
reorganized debtor. In January 1993, the court approved Taks
reorganization plan and Michael Eskridge began serving as the companys
operating agent. He worked several months with out a formal employment
In July 1993, Tak filed a formal agreement with Eskridge. The agreement
specified that Tak would employ Eskridge for a maximum of three
years. Eskridges salary was set at $275,000 per year for his
first 18 months and he could earn bonuses based on Taks financial
performance. If Eskridge should be terminated without cause, Tak
would be obligated to pay him his salary for 12 months or the remainder
of his employment term, a pro rata amount of his bonus for the current
fiscal year, and to continue to provide his insurance coverage.
However, the FCC did not approve the license transfer to the reorganized
debtor. On Jan. 7, 1994, Taks creditors asked the court to
extend the deadline for its license transfer. The motion was denied
and Tak returned to bankruptcy mode. Eskridge was removed from his
position as a corporate officer but continued to be employed by
Tak, receiving the same $275,000 annual salary. Then, in April 1994,
Tak sent a letter to Eskridge ending his employment with out cause.
Eskridge asked for the benefits outlined by his employment agreement.
Tak offered to make only those severance payments it usually gave
Eskridge filed suit, seeking the payment of benefits totaling $
620,042 plus interest. His calculations were based on one years
salary at $275,000, one year of supplemental insurance benefits
at $51,600, unused vacation at $25,442, a bonus for 1993 at $200,000,
and a pro rata bonus for 1994 at $67,000.
Judge Martin ruled that the voiding f Taks reorganization
plan did not void Eskridges agreement with Tak.
He awarded Eskridge $326,000 plus 9 percent interest from April
1994 to July 2002 for the salary and supplemental benefits portion
f his claim, and $55,000 plus 9 percent interest on bonus amountssignificantly
lower than Eskridge had asked for because Tak did not meet its financial
goals. Martins opinion did not include payment for vacation
because there was no evidence of time earned or taken.