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Two of the nation's great financial crises form the bookends of Milton Pollack's legal career. Pollack began his first phase of that career, as a Securities lawyer, just two weeks before the 1929 Stock Market crash. Sixty years later, as a federal district court judge, he used his knowledge and experience to resolve a multibillion-dollar disaster that was left when Drexel Burnham Lambert, a powerful Wall Street investment bank, collapsed into Bankruptcy. The lawsuits relating to Drexel were expected to drag on for decades, but under Pollack's guidance, they were resolved and completed in just over three years. Pollack considers the Drexel Class Action suit (In re Drexel, 960 F. 2d 285 [2d Cir. 1992]) and the resulting bankruptcy reorganization to be his "lifetime masterpieces."
Pollack was born September 29, 1906, in New York City. He attended Erasmus High School, and then Columbia College and Law School, where he received a bachelor of arts degree in 1927 and a doctor of Jurisprudence degree in 1929. He was admitted to the New York bar in 1930. Pollack married Lillian Klein on December 18, 1932.
After graduation, Pollack joined the law firm of Gilman and Unger. By 1937, Gilman and Unger had become Unger and Pollack, and by 1943, Pollack had proved himself to be a force in both the legal and financial communities by winning a $4.5 million shareholder lawsuit against General Motors Corporation (Singer v. General Motors Corp., 136 F. 2d 905 [2d Cir. 1943]).
"In the days before the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, trial by ambush and secrecy was considered normal in the courts of law."
In 1944, Pollack set out on his own. Over the next two decades, he established himself as an outstanding litigator.On June 12, 1967, after almost 40 years as a practicing attorney, Pollack was appointed as U.S. district judge for the Southern District of New York by President lyndon b. johnson. Pollack authored more than 150 opinions relating to securities-regulation matters and many other issues.
In 1983, Pollack took senior (or semiretired) status. As a senior judge, he played a prominent role in major Wall Street disputes in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including the trials of Junk Bond salesmen Michael R. Milken and Ivan F. Boesky. When the Drexel bankruptcy occurred, Pollack's lifelong experience made him the logical choice to handle the resulting avalanche of complaints and actions.
In 1989, Pollack approved a settlement that gave control over Drexel's continued operation to high-level SEC officials. The settlement required Drexel to cooperate in the government's investigation of former employees and to cut all ties with former Drexel executive Milken. In 1991, Pollack authorized the payment of $46.8 million to 80,000 persons who claimed losses from Boeksy's insider trading and securities Fraud. That same year, Pollack approved the settlement of a class action suit by Drexel creditors who had been defrauded by the firm's securities transactions.
Pollack also presided over the 1993 trial of corporate raider Victor Posner. Because Posner had conducted illegal takeovers and had had previous criminal dealings with Milken and Boesky, Pollack barred him from ever again heading a publicly traded company. Judge Pollack barred the Posners under the Securities Law Enforcement Remedies Act of 1990 (Remedies Act) from acting as officers and directors of any public companies (Pub. L. No. 1-429, 104 Stat. 931).
As a senior judge, Pollack has been acknowledged as a troubleshooter who is quick to help fellow judges who have fallen behind in their work and to advise younger judges on how to address courtroom problems. In addition to a full schedule in the Southern District of New York, Pollack also hears cases in Houston, Texas, during part of the year.
Pollack was the recipient of the Edward J. Devitt Award for Distinguished Service to Justice in 1995. The following year, he was praised for his handling of the liquidation of Drexel Burnham Lambert assets. In a 2000 interview for the federal courts' newsletter, Pollack stated his enjoyment of taking over long-delayed cases, particularly securities and trust cases, and getting them settled. In 2003, Pollack continued to work on cases of major importance.
Arkin, Stanley S., and Kenneth P. Coleman. 1991. "Judicial Activism as an Art: Drexel Case." New York Times (June 7).
Brockway, Kim. 1998. "College Honors Noted Alumni for Exceptional Career Achievements." Columbia University Record (March 6).
Feerick, John D., and Milton Pollack. 1994. "Remarks Delivered on the Occasion of the Presentation of the Fordham-Stein Prize to the Honorable Milton Pollack on October 26, 1994." Fordham Urban Law Journal 22 (fall).
Oakes, James L. 1989. "Grace Notes on 'Grace Under Pressure'." Ohio State Law Journal 50 (June).
Rapoport, Michael. 1996. "Drexel's Final Days." Minneapolis Star Tribune (March 28).
Riencke, Mary, and Nancy Lichterman, eds. 1979. The American Bench: Judges of the Nation. 2d ed. Minneapolis: Reginald Bishop Forster.
Robbins, David E., and Michael H. Stone, panelists. New York Stock Exchange, Inc. Symposium on Arbitration in the Securities Industry. 1995. "Discovery." Fordham Law Review 63 (April).