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Bankruptcy judge praised as 'practical and savvy'

Judge Redfield T. Baum was in the middle of hearing arguments about the future of the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday when he stopped the proceedings to talk about his son.

Baum told the court his son was recently running a marathon but got into trouble during the last few miles. The judge said he pedalled beside his son on a bicycle watching him struggle to complete the race.

The story was vintage Baum, folksy and with a point - he wanted the 40 lawyers in the courtroom to understand there were limits to how many legal briefs he could absorb.

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"He told me about that story this morning," his son, Redfield T. Baum Jr., said from his home in Phoenix.

The younger Baum confirmed he had hit the wall after about 22 miles and had a tough time finishing. As for his dad telling the story in court: "I assume he is pretty entertaining in court. ... He's my dad."

Baum, a golf lover and college sports fan, will ultimately decide if Jim Balsillie can buy the Coyotes and move the club to Hamilton. While he's no great fan of hockey - his son says they have been to a couple Coyotes games - he knows the Coyotes case is unprecedented.

Lawyers involved in the case say if any judge is up to the challenge of dealing with such a complicated case, it's Baum. He has nearly 40 years experience in commercial law, as a lawyer and a judge, and has worked on bankruptcy issues around the world.

"He is well respected," said attorney Tom Salerno, who has known Baum for 27 years and is involved in the Coyotes saga. "He is practical and savvy."

Baum, 61, showed his practical side last week when he told lawyers where to drop off stacks of legal filings in preparation for last Tuesday's hearing. The filings had to be in by midnight last Friday, but Baum didn't want to force staff at the courthouse to open up the building so he could retrieve the material. So he told the lawyers to leave the documents at a men's clothing store on Saturday morning. Baum knew the store owner and he would just pop down and pick everything up.

"I've never seen that done before," Salerno said.

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Baum spent 18 years practising commercial law in Phoenix before being appointed a bankruptcy court judge in 1990. In 2005, he became chief bankruptcy judge for the District of Arizona.

As chief judge, he has been an advocate for developing alternative dispute resolution programs at the court. That has been evident during the Coyotes case as Baum has recommended mediation as a way of resolving several issues.

Baum has also written numerous books and articles on bankruptcy issues and gives regular speeches, including speaking recently at a conference on distressed real estate in Phoenix. He has also helped the Czech Republic write its bankruptcy code, and in 2000, a legal publication named him one of the top 10 bankruptcy court judges in the U.S.

In the courtroom, Baum ranges from being informal - referring to himself as an old man - to cutting, sometimes pushing lawyers to get to the point. During last Tuesday's hearing, when one lawyer put up a chart to illustrate a point, the judge remarked the print was so small no one but the lawyer could see it. When the lawyer moved to put up another chart, Baum quipped, "Sure, put it up so you can see it."

"I think he enjoys being a judge," said his son, who is also a lawyer (he added that the T stands for Tomlinson).

Baum Jr. said he couldn't recall his father ever being too judge-like at home, but he quickly added, "I probably lost most of the arguments." He said his father never pushed him into law and had no idea he was even interested. Baum only found out his son was going into law school at ASU when the younger Baum's LSAT scores were mistakenly sent to the judge's home.

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Baum Jr. said he has been following the Coyotes case with interest and has talked about it with his father, "to the extent that is appropriate."

He took his father to a Coyotes game the last time the team made the playoffs, and they have been to a couple of other hockey games. But his father's sports passions are golf and ASU football and basketball, he said.

Baum Jr. stopped practising law last year to stay home and raise his two young children. One child is named Redfield T. Baum III.

"He's got a lot to live up to," he said.

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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