Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, September 3, 2021

Father’s edict works for Farinash

Jerrold Farinash became an attorney at his father’s insistence but says he’s enjoyed the work. - Photograph provided

Jerrold Farinash never considered becoming anything but a lawyer. As a child, he never dreamed about becoming a firefighter or an astronaut. While in college, he didn’t major in accounting or engineering.

Rather, from as far back as Farinash can remember, his father told him he was going to be an attorney, and that was that.

“He never gave me another option,” says Farinash, 62. “He’d wanted to be a lawyer, but circumstances didn’t allow it, so he told me I was going to be a lawyer.”

Farinash says his father kept him on a straight and narrow path to ensure he didn’t stray in a different direction. When he told his dad he wanted to work part-time as a police officer while attending undergraduate school, for example, his father promised to kick him out of the house and stop paying for college.

“He was afraid I’d like making a little money and wouldn’t go to law school,” Farinash speculates. “I assured him I would go to law school, but he wouldn’t have it.”

Given the different things Farinash might have become had he been able to chart his own path, as well as the young age at which his life was prescribed to him, one could say it’s fortunate he actually likes being an attorney.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he says matter-of-factly. “I can’t complain.”

If anyone thinks Farinash is simply being a good sport, they’d be wrong, he contends. Instead of feeling as though his father locked him onto a career track he never would have picked, he says it’s opened doors to opportunities that otherwise would have remained closed to him.

This is especially true of his work as a Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee.

“It’s a good gig,” he says with a perceptible uptick in enthusiasm.

Farinash became a Chapter 7 trustee for the Eastern District of Tennessee in 1990 after developing a bankruptcy practice at the Chattanooga firm for which he was working. Since then, he’s handled cases involving a variety of belly-up endeavors, including Ponzi schemes, racetracks, knife shops and more.

“The fun thing about being a trustee is you never know what your next case is going to be,” Farinash says. “I’ve learned a lot of interesting things, like how to make knives and how companies work.

“It’s been a different kind of education than most lawyers get.”

One of the most famous (or as Farinash puts it, “infamous”) matters on which he’s worked was the Casey barge case in 2015.

Located on the Tennessee River across from Ross’s Landing, the dilapidated flatboat was a severe eyesore that detracted considerably from the beauty of its surroundings.

And it wasn’t going anywhere – except down.

Three days after Farinash received the appointment to liquidate the assets of the company that owned the barge, it sank.

“We had to bring it up and move it out,” Farinash recalls. “The day it left, traffic was stopped on the Olgiati Bridge and a couple thousand people were lined up along Ross’s Landing to watch.”

Despite occasionally seeing people abuse the ability to declare bankruptcy, Farinash says he agrees with U.S. District Judge Curtis Collier, who last week published a column in the Hamilton County Herald about bankruptcy courts being courts of second chances.

“When you read about bankruptcy in the national press, it generally has a bad reputation,” he says. “It sounds like people don’t want to pay their bills or are cheating their creditors.

“But it is a court of second chances, and sometimes third, fourth and fifth chances.”

Farinash notes that Tennessee has a reputation for having one of the highest rates of bankruptcy in the nation. But he says this perspective fails to account for the differences between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcies.

“Most of Tennessee’s bankruptcies are Chapter 13, not Chapter 7. In Southern California, nearly everyone files Chapter 7, but in Tennessee we pay hundreds of millions of dollars to creditors every year.

“The Chapter 13 trustee in Chattanooga alone pays $80 to $90 million a year to creditors,” he estimates.

Farinash says the people who abuse the bankruptcy system are few and far between. Rather, he acknowledges most debtors are “honest people” who have suffered a debilitating setback and need relief.

“We save people’s houses, and we save marriages,” he says.

Farinash grew up in Kingston. After graduating from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville College of Law in 1983, he accepted a position with Weill, Ellis, Weems & Copeland in Chattanooga.

“I was the 11th lawyer at that firm,” he recalls.

Farinash spent his early years as an attorney engaged in general practice. Bankruptcy entered the picture later, when he moved to Kennedy, Fulton & Koontz.

“I was the fourth attorney at that firm,” Farinash calculates, exhibiting a possible proclivity for law firm trivia.

Farinash formed a firm of two with Andrea Hayduk in 2013. Although Hayduk left in 2017, his firm remained a practice of two with the addition of Amanda Stofan.

“Our practice is mostly financial in nature,” he says. “We represent creditors and debtors, we’re involved in a lot of bankruptcy cases, and we do financial litigation outside of bankruptcy.”

Although Farinash & Stofan is still a concern, it’s now a firm of three.

Farinash sounds slightly pained as he reveals the third attorney is his daughter, Rebecca. (His son is a major in the U.S. Air Force.)

Proving the proverbial apple sometimes rolls away after falling off the tree, Farinash did not insist his daughter become an attorney. In fact, he tried to talk her out of it.

“Her great grandmother earned a nursing certificate, her grandmother was a nurse and nursing instructor, and her mother is a registered nurse,” he explains.

“I wanted [Rebecca] to be a nurse, too. She tried it, but said, ‘Nope, I’m going to law school.’”

Farinash told her that was a bad idea.

“The practice of law is becoming either Walmart or boutique. I wouldn’t wish Walmart on anyone, and starting a practice at a boutique is difficult.

“Fortunately, I’m still practicing, so she’s able to work with me. That will ease her transition.”

Essentially, Farinash didn’t try to dissuade his daughter from becoming an attorney because he disliked his career, but because he was concerned about her ability to provide for herself.

Could that have also been what Farinash’s father was thinking?

Farinash doesn’t believe so. “I think he just wanted a lawyer in the family,” he says wryly.

Farinash became more than attorney; he became a contributing member of his community who’s served on multiple boards, including the Tennessee Hemophilia & Bleeding Disorders Foundation, the Highland Park Neighborhood Association and the Humane Society of Chattanooga.

Farinash also discovered personal pursuits he enjoys including golf, fishing and telling stories about fishing.

Having mentioned his love of angling, Farinash seizes the opportunity to share one of his favorite fishing stories.

“I was fishing in Columbia for peacock bass. I’d caught a big one and was trying to reel it in, but it was spooling out my line,” he begins.

“I started to walk around my chair, but my leg caught it and it swiveled around and threw me against the side of the boat.”

Farinash broke two ribs in the fall. But that didn’t stop him.

“The guy I was with told me to hand him the rod. I said, ‘Get out of my damn way,’ stood up and reeled it in myself.”

The 18-pound peacock bass might have given up sooner had it known who was holding the other end of the line. But Farinash says the way he fishes and the way he practices law are worlds apart.

When he’s holding a rod, he’ll stand with two broken ribs and go to battle. But when it comes to the law, he understands the importance of second chances – and of giving a daughter who charted her own path a leg up.

“Now that my daughter has joined the practice, I’ll have to continue to work for a while,” he says. “It will probably help if dad is around to generate business.”