New York bankruptcy judge who oversaw Purdue Pharma case to retire

  • Summary
  • Companies
  • Law firms
  • Robert Drain has been on the bench for nearly 20 years
  • Judge says retirement is ‘logical’ at this time
  • Oversaw Purdue, Sears, Hostess Brands bankruptcies

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Sept 28 – A judge popular among attorneys who like to bring their complicated Chapter 11 cases before him will retire next year, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York announced on Tuesday.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain in White Plains, New York, who recently oversaw the bankruptcy of OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma LP and approved controversial legal protections for the Sackler family members that owned the company, will retire on June 30, 2022. Before joining the bench in 2002 he was a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

The judge is retiring eight years before his term expires.

“When I retire this June I will have been on the bench for 20 years and will have turned 65; the time therefore seemed logical,” Drain said in an email to Reuters.

In addition to Purdue, Drain oversaw a slew of notable Chapter 11 cases, including Sears Holdings Corp, Hostess Brands Inc, Windstream Holdings Inc, Frontier Airlines, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Reader’s Digest.

In 2019, he presided over two Chapter 11 cases that were completed in less than 24 hours: apparel retailer FullBeauty Brands Operations LLC and technology company Sungard Availability Services Capital Inc.

For many years, Drain was the sole judge sitting in the White Plains division of the Southern District of New York’s bankruptcy court. This allowed companies that wanted Drain to oversee their bankruptcy to file their cases specifically in White Plains, where they could be sure it would be assigned to him.

Many judges who oversee large, complex Chapter 11 cases approve legal protections known as third-party releases for officers, directors, owners and other individuals connected to the bankrupt company against future litigation related to the company. Drain faced criticism for his role in the high-profile Purdue case in light of releases he approved for Sackler family members in exchange for their $4.5 billion contribution to a settlement trust. The Sacklers were accused by many states, municipalities and individuals of fueling the national opioid crisis by pushing Purdue to aggressively market OxyContin while downplaying abuse and overdose risks.

The pattern of filing complicated bankruptcies before judges who lawyers believe will be friendly to their interests has prompted lawmakers to introduce legislation aimed at banning that practice.

Drain was known among some lawyers for an almost encyclopedic knowledge of precedential bankruptcy law that he would pull from on a whim during court hearings. He would also sometimes use colorful language or lose his patience with lawyers if he felt their arguments were a waste of time. He once described criticism of former Sears chairman Edward Lampert that he said likened Lampert to a ruthless robber baron and a blowhard sitcom character as “substantial verbal abuse.”

Drain earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1979 and his J.D. from Columbia University School of Law in 1984.

The judge is currently an adjunct professor at Pace University School of Law and was previously an adjunct professor at St. John’s University School of Law’s L.L.M. in Bankruptcy Program.

Drain is also the chair of the Bankruptcy Judges Advisory Group established through the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts and a fellow the American College of Bankruptcy. He has written a novel, “The Great Work in the United States of America.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Judge Drain.

Read more:

U.S. judge grants Purdue Pharma’s $7 million exec bonus plan, faces blunt criticism

Purdue Pharma bankruptcy judge OKs examiner but condemns Sackler-related attacks

U.S. bankruptcy judge approves sale of Sears to Chairman Lampert

Maria Chutchian

Maria Chutchian reports on corporate bankruptcies and restructurings. She can be reached at

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