Alumni Q&A: Law Firm Associate Matthew M. Madden '07 Argues and Wins at Supreme Court, 9-0
Matthew M. Madden, a 2007 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law, recently argued and won a unanimous ruling in his first case before the U.S. Supreme Court.
The opinion in Harris v. Viegelahn, released Monday, says that when a debtor converts in good faith from a Chapter 7 to Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing, the debtor gets to keep any unresolved funds still held by the Chapter 7 trustee.
An associate at Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber in Washington, D.C., Madden is an appellate and trial litigator with petition- or merits-stage briefing in a dozen Supreme Court cases. He is one of few law firm associates in recent years to argue before the Supreme Court, as usually partners argue such cases.
Madden explained how the Harriscase came about, and how his training at UVA Law started him down the road to a successful career as a courtroom advocate.
What has been your career path and what you do at Robbins Russell?
I am an appellate and trial litigator at Robbins Russell, where I've practiced since my clerkship with Judge Stephen F. Williams on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In nearly seven years at Robbins Russell, I have worked on a number of other Supreme Court cases and appeals in the 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 9th, 11th and D.C. circuits. I also represent clients in complex financial and securities litigation, and I enjoy a broad practice in which I get to take depositions and present appellate argument.
How did Charles Harris come to be your client? What was his case about?
Mr. Harris commenced a bankruptcy case under Chapter 13, but later converted that case to one under Chapter 7. The question presented was whether Mr. Harris, or his creditors, were entitled to the post-petition wages held by the Chapter 13 trustee when Mr. Harris converted his case to Chapter 7.
Represented by very able bankruptcy lawyers in Texas, Mr. Harris won the return of his wages in the bankruptcy and district courts, only then to have the 5th Circuit order those funds disbursed to his creditors. We recognized the 5th Circuit's decision as a strong candidate for Supreme Court review, and began working closely with Mr. Harris's bankruptcy counsel to secure certiorari and reversal. We also had amicus support in presenting our case to the court, including a brief authored by MoloLamken partner Martin Totaro '06, with whom I had worked on the Virginia Law Review.
Why was this case ideal to appeal to the Supreme Court?
As with many cases that merit the Supreme Court's review, the circuits were split. The 5th Circuit had concluded that Mr. Harris's creditors were entitled to any post-petition wages held by the Chapter 13 trustee when Harris converted his case to Chapter 7. But the 3rd Circuit, in an earlier decision, had reached the contrary legal conclusion on very similar facts. Moreover, as the 5th Circuit acknowledged in its opinion, the bankruptcy courts had been divided on the issue for three decades.
Absolutely. The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic deepened my interest in litigating cases before the court, and prepared me to work on (and now to argue) cases there. And to bring things full circle, a group of current clinic students helped me to prepare for my argument. I was also very grateful to have help from a number of professors, who brought their own expertise to bear to come up with great questions that got me ready for the argument. The Lile Moot Court Competition is what got me interested, in particular, in oral advocacy. It's hard for me to imagine that I would have been standing behind the podium in the Supreme Court had I not first cut my teeth behind moot-court podiums all around the law school.
You've argued at the appellate level, but what was it like to argue your first case at the Supreme Court, and then win through a unanimous decision?
Arguing in the Supreme Court was a particularly special and gratifying experience. It carried with it an especially intense level of preparation, of course, but the experience was well worth the effort. Among other highlights of the argument was having support in the gallery of a large contingent of family, friends and colleagues. Among them was my 8-year-old son (who was born, incidentally, the week of my Lile Moot Court final), and it was fantastic to have him there to watch my Supreme Court debut.
One of your former Supreme Court Litigation Clinic professors, Mark Stancil '99 , is a partner at Robbins Russell. Do you work together on cases, or ask him for advice?
I worked closely with Robbins Russell partner Mark Stancil on the Harris case. I had such a great experience working with Mark on real Supreme Court cases as a clinic student that I joined Mark at his firm to make a career out of this kind of work. As my debut argument in the Supreme Court approached, I had as much to learn from Mark (who has argued five cases in the Supreme Court) as I did during the clinic.
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