Dales Enjoys 'Dream' Job

December 3, 2007
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Judge Scott Dales began a 14-year term in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Michigan in October, but he’s not exactly new to this district’s bankruptcy court: He clerked for the Honorable James Gregg from 1998 to 2000.  

He was previously vice president of the law division of National City Corp., where he advised the company and its banking and non-banking subsidiaries on matters of insolvency, commercial loan documentation and general commercial litigation. Before joining National City in 2003, Dales was an associate at Dykema Gossett PLLC in Grand Rapids, where he practiced commercial and civil matters, including litigation in state and federal courts, with an emphasis on bankruptcy law.

A graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts and of George Washington University Law School, Dales has authored several articles on bankruptcy-related issues. His experience includes a two-year stint as a legislative analyst for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp. in Washington, D.C., and four years as a commercial litigator for Barrett Gravante Carpinello & Stern LLP of New York. 

Dales’ father was an attorney, and although Dales always intended to pursue a law degree after college, his two years with Freddy Mac persuaded him to accelerate that goal. 

“At Freddy Mac, I was reviewing state legislation that nobody wanted to review. I’d find an interesting issue, and it would get yanked away from me, because if it was interesting or meaningful, then the lawyers took over. It confirmed for me that I really should be going to law school,” Dales recalled.

The experience at GWU Law School was “great,” in large part because of the professors, but also because of the school’s proximity to the D.C. courts, Dales said. While in law school, he spent his spare time hanging out in various courts around town. He “experienced” the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, D.C. Superior Court, the bankruptcy courts, the court of federal claims and the patent appeals court, among others.

“I was always going to court just to observe,” Dales said.

Dales married in his first year of law school. He treated law school like a job because his wife, Joanna, worked full-time, he said. Even if he didn’t have a class, he would get up, go to the law library and maintain a regular work-a-day schedule.

During that time he served two years as a law clerk for the Honorable C.G. Cholakis of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York. That court received the appeals from bankruptcy court judges, and no one liked to handle the bankruptcy appeals, Dales said.

“So what did they do? They gave it to the junior guy, so I did all the bankruptcy appeals, and I really loved it,” Dales said. “I liked the eloquence of the code, and I thought the process was very streamlined.”

From there he went on to work as an associate with Barrett Gravante. In 1998, he and his wife relocated to Michigan, where Dales landed a two-year clerkship with Judge Gregg of this district’s bankruptcy court. Dales moved on to Dykema Gossett in 2000 and to the National City Corp. Kalamazoo office in 2003.

He had always flirted with the idea of going back to the bankruptcy court, and when word surfaced that bankruptcy court Judge Joann Stevenson was going to retire, he applied for the judgeship.

A merit selection panel, comprising Western District bankruptcy practitioners and others known to the bankruptcy court review applications, select candidates for interviews and recommend five of them to a subcommittee of the circuit court for further interviews. The final recommendation goes to the full court.

Dales said he was surprised and very gratified to be recommended for the judgeship.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought that I would become a judge, because typically it’s a political process, and I’m not a political person. I’m not a real ‘player’ in that sense,” Dales explained. “I wasn’t on anybody’s radar screen as far as I knew.”

He discovered that the selection process was based on merit and that the process was “political,” but in a different sense. It isn’t party politics as usual, he said. It’s local in the sense that a candidate has to get through the merit panel, and to do that, a candidate’s comrades in the local legal community have to show their support.

Working in-house for National City, Dales was involved in all the cases but worked basically in the shadows.

He’s definitely out of the shadows with his new seat on the court. 

“On motion day, every utterance is directed at me,” Dales observed.

“Everything I say is recorded, listened to and scrutinized. For someone who was in the shadows, that’s a different thing. I’ve gone from being a private person to a public person.” 

He said his two judicial clerkships best prepared him for his new role, and he credits Judge Cholakis and Judge Gregg for their mentorship.

“This is an opportunity to participate in the resolution of disputes — some complex and some not — that are very important to the people involved,” Dales observed. “Part of what makes our district so great is that, from my experience, most people are courteous and civil and collegiate. I want to see that preserved.” 

Outside the courtroom, Dales enjoys taking and producing black and white photographs, primarily of his three sons. He has a darkroom in his home. He said he got the photography bug as a kid from his grandfather, a former reporter for The New York Times who started his career as a photojournalist for the Schenectady Gazette. LQX

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