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UK Law’s Office of Continuing Legal Education (CLE) recently held the 17th Biennial Judge Joe Lee Bankruptcy Institute.  While this year’s institute was as successful as ever, there was a bittersweet feeling in the air with the absence of a key attendee. Judge Joe Lee passed away on May 21, 2015 – exactly two weeks before his namesake institute.  

“Judge Lee was a true friend and mentor to UK’s Office of Continuing Legal Education. He was proud of the bankruptcy bench; he was proud of the bankruptcy bar; and he was proud of his biennial Bankruptcy Institute,” Kevin Bucknam, UK CLE Director said. 

Judge Lee former Chief Judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, retired in the fall of 1997. He received both his undergraduate degree and law degree (1955) from the University of Kentucky. Appointed as Bankruptcy Judge in 1961, his interest in continuing legal education dates back to 1963 when he participated in a seminar on Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceedings.  In 1973, Judge Lee served as Program Planning Chair for a bankruptcy seminar remembered in our history as the first seminar ever conducted by the UK CLE. Since then, he served as Program Planning Chair for each of the Bankruptcy Institutes that UK CLE has conducted, now named the Biennial Joe Lee Bankruptcy Institute. He was the sole author of the Bankruptcy Practice Manual published by Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Company. He was active in the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, having served as President in 1973-74 and as Secretary from 1979 to 1990. From 1982 through 1990, he served as Editor-In-Chief of The American Bankruptcy Law Journal and continued to serve as Editor Emeritus. Judge Lee was selected as a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation in 1982 and received the Herbert M. Bierce Distinguished Judicial Service Award by the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges in October of 1983. He was a Fellow of The American College of Bankruptcy and in 1992 received the American Law Institute - American Bar Association (ALI-ABA) Harrison Tweed Special Merit Award for long term efforts in Continuing Legal Education. Judge Lee served for many years as an adjunct professor of law at the University of Kentucky College of Law, and in 1998 was inducted into the law school’s Hall of Fame.

Director Bucknam vowed to continue the heritage of the bankruptcy institute. “Judge Lee honored the UK College of Law with his dedication, scholarship and friendship throughout his years as a student, as a professor and as a Judge. He will be missed,” said Bucknam. “I can assure you that this biennial CLE Institute will continue. It will continue in Judge Lee’s name, and it will continue at the same high-level of instruction and substance at which Judge Lee raised it.”

Taft McKinstry, of the Lexington firm of Fowler Bell PLLC and who practiced before Judge Lee for many years, reflected on his Court: “It was always a pleasure and a learning opportunity to appear before Judge Lee. From the bench, he taught bankruptcy law to many practitioners - with respect, patience and kindness. His knowledge of bankruptcy law was profound, his experience deep. All present and past Judges in the Eastern District of Kentucky practiced before Judge Lee and therefore his legacy continues. He will be missed very much.”