Judge Sarah Sharer Curley (Ret.)

2023 Bankruptcy Distinguished Service Award

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA–Sarah Sharer Curley has been selected to receive the prestigious 2023 American Inns of Court Bankruptcy Distinguished Service Award, which recognizes a judge or attorney specializing in bankruptcy law who has exhibited ongoing dedication to the highest standards of the legal profession, the rule of law, and personal ethics and integrity. The first woman appointed to be a bankruptcy judge in Arizona and first woman to serve as chief judge, Curley served as a judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the District of Arizona from 1986 until her retirement in 2014. Curley will receive the award at the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges in Austin, Texas, in October.

While a judge, Curley led the creation of a bankruptcy court self-help center to assist pro se litigants in getting legal advice from volunteer attorneys. Since then, the center has grown in both size and capacity and now has paid office staff. When Curley retired from the bench, colleagues honored her by establishing the Honorable Sarah Sharer Curley Self Help Center Award, which honors a Phoenix bankruptcy attorney for extraordinary contributions and service to the center.

Curley has also been a leader in the American Inns of Court movement. A member of the Lorna Lockwood American Inn of Court from 1995 to 2001, Curley helped found the Arizona Bankruptcy American Inn of Court in 2011 and became its first president. She is still an honorary member of the Inn’s executive committee. “She drives attendance, program substance, and creativity and spends countless hours mentoring lawyers (young and old, male and female, big firm and small firm, consumer and commercial),” write Judges Madeleine Wanslee and Daniel Collins of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Arizona. “Judge Curley is one of the principal reasons our local Inn has remained vibrant since its inception.”

Curley’s devotion to educating other judges and lawyers extends beyond the Inn. In 2014, she wrote The Bankruptcy Card and How to Play It. Published by the National Association of Women Judges, the resource offers guidance to nonbankruptcy judges addressing bankruptcy issues after the enactment of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. She now writes a blog discussing important legal issues.

Curley earned an undergraduate degree in American history from Mount Holyoke College, then earned a cum laude law degree from New York Law School, where she was a member of the Law Review.