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Irving Sulmeyer dies at 82; lawyer known for bankruptcy expertise

His major local bankruptcy cases included Bubble Up, Standard Brand Paints and Wickes Furniture. He also traveled extensively to represent General Electric Co. in real estate matters.

October 16, 2009|Valerie J. Nelson

Fresh out of Stanford law school in 1951, Irving Sulmeyer knocked on the doors in Los Angeles of what are euphemistically called "white-shoe" law firms -- established, powerful and, at the time, far from ethnically diverse. Because he was Jewish, no one would hire him, his family and colleagues said, so he started his own practice.

The firm -- long called Sulmeyer, Kupetz, Baumann & Rothmann -- became known for its work on bankruptcy and insolvency cases, and its founder was regarded as an expert on bankruptcy law.

Sulmeyer, 82, died of cancer Sept. 26 at his Rolling Hills home, said his son, Michael

Richard Baumann, a partner in the firm, called Sulmeyer "a great scholar who had common sense and was very resourceful."

"He had a way of winning," Baumann said, "and didn't put down the other side when he did it. I think it's called character."

When Sulmeyer testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978, it was a highlight of his career, his son said.

Sulmeyer's major local bankruptcy cases included those involving the Bubble Up company, Standard Brand Paints and Wickes Furniture. He also traveled extensively to represent General Electric Co. in real estate matters.

Born July 22, 1927, in New York City, he was one of three sons of Louis Sulmeyer and his wife, Clara, a Ukrainian immigrant.

His father came to New York at 16 from Bukovina, a region now split between Romania and Ukraine.

Soon after Sulmeyer's bar mitzvah, his family moved to Los Angeles.

His father worked as a tailor, while his brother George became a doctor and his brother Joe an optometrist.

World War II interrupted Sulmeyer's civil engineering studies at Caltech, and he served as a radar technician in the Navy from 1945 to 1946.

After earning his bachelor's degree at Caltech in 1948, he enrolled at Stanford. He was a member of the Stanford Law Review that included future U.S. Supreme Court justices William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor.

Sulmeyer, who wrote several books on bankruptcy, taught law at Pepperdine University.

He built an extensive library of military history books, many of which were lost in an early 1980s fire that burned down his house in Malibu, destroying most of his possessions.

"Neither my mother or my father were the same after that," said Michael, the son of Sulmeyer and his second wife.

Sulmeyer also had a major wine collection but sold it after he stopped drinking about 15 years ago and donated the proceeds to Stanford's law school.

He was divorced twice.

Besides his son Michael, Sulmeyer is survived by his third wife, Rachel, whom he married in 1996; four children from his first marriage, Lisa, Stephen, Karen and John; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Skirball Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd.

Memorial donations may be made to the City of Hope, www.cityofhope.org, or the Return to Freedom horse sanctuary, www.returntofreedom.org.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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