Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

Compared to federal magistrate judges, it is more uncommon for federal bankruptcy judges to elevated to an Article III appointment.  The Trump Administration, however, has already nominated two bankruptcy judges for elevation, including Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, nominated for one of the prestigious courts in the country.

Background

A native New Yorker, Vyskocil was born in the city in 1958.  She received her B.A. summa cum laude from Dominican College of Blauvelt and then her J.D. from St. John’s University of Law.[1]

After graduation, Vyskocil joined Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP as an Associate.[2]  In 1990, she became a Partner at the firm.[3]  She stayed with the firm until 2016 when she was selected as a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge.[4]  Vyskocil currently serves in that capacity.

In 2014, when Judge Robert Smith on the New York Court of Appeals was set to retire, Vyskocil applied for the vacancy and was selected as one of seven finalists.[5]  Gov. Andrew Cuomo ultimately did not select Vyskocil, appointing Judge Eugene Fahey instead.  Vyskocil applied and was selected as a finalist again in 2017 when Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam passed away, but Judge Paul Feinman was selected for the vacancy instead.[6]

History of the Seat

Vyskocil has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.  This seat opened on March 1, 2017, when Judge Loretta Preska moved to senior status.

In April 2017, Vyskocil was contacted by the White House to gauge her interest in a federal judgeship.[7]  After interviewing with the White House, Vyskocil’s name was broached to New York Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.[8]  Vyskocil was officially nominated on May 15, 2018.

Legal Career

Before she ascended to the federal bench, Vyskocil spent 33 years at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York City.  At the firm, Vyskocil primarily handled a civil litigation docket, focusing on commercial tort and contract cases.[9]  Over the course of her time at the firm, Vyskocil has tried fifteen cases and has participated in briefing two cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.[10]

Among her trials, Vyskocil represented Swiss Re Group and affiliated insurance companies in a declaratory judgment action related to insurance payouts for the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11.[11]  In the case, which required a three month long trial, Vyskocil secured a ruling that the insurance policies created liability for $3.5 Billion as the attacks constituted one “occurence” (the lessees requested $7 Billion in payouts).[12]

Jurisprudence

Vyskocil has served as a U.S. Bankruptcy judge in New York since her appointment in 2016.  As a Bankruptcy Judge, Vyskocil supervises bankruptcy matters, and has handled over 1000 cases since her appointment.[13]  Among the cases she has handled, Vyskocil presided over the bankruptcies of an organization providing educational opportunities to students in China,[14] construction companies involved in the World Trade Center rebuilding,[15] and a retailer of organic juice cleanses.[16]

Impressively, none of the decisions Vyskocil has made in her two years on the bench has been reversed by a higher court.[17]

Political Activity

Vyskocil, a former member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, has donated exclusively to Republican candidates, including former Sen. Al D’Amato, former Pres. George W. Bush, former Rep. Rick Lazio, and Sen. John McCain.[18]

Writings

Throughout her career, Vyskocil has been extremely prolific as both an author and a speaker.  In conjunction with her former law partner Barry Ostrager, Vyskocil has authored a number of handbooks on insurance and commercial law including Occurrence Policy Coverage for Tort Claims, Crisis Management – Commercial Litigation in New York State Courts, and Modern Reinsurance Law & Practice.[19]

Vyskocil has also authored a number of articles discussing developments in the law.  In one article, Vyskocil, along with the other members of the Committee on Federal Courts for the New York City Bar, recommended that rules of privilege should not be codified for use in federal court, arguing that the common law approach to privilege permits more flexibility and adaptability.[20]

Overall Assessment

Looking at her overall record, it  is hard to dispute Vyskocil’s qualifications for the federal bench.  With 33 years of federal practice, a solid and uncontroversial tenure on the bench, and a strong academic writing background, Vyskocil will likely be seen as a consensus nominee.  The fact that she has Schumer and Gillibrand in her corner won’t hurt either.

Given these factors, Vyskocil should sail to confirmation, much like the others in the New York package of nominees.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Mary Kay Vyskocil: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Denise M. Champagne, COA Nominees Forwarded to Governor, The Daily Record of Rochester, Dec. 2, 2014.

[6] Christine Stuart, Seven Make Short List for Open Seat on NY’s High Court, Courthouse News Service, June 2, 2017, https://www.courthousenews.com/seven-make-short-list-open-seat-nys-highest-court/.  

[7] Vyskocil, supra n. 1 at 35.

[8] Zoe Tillman, The White House Has Pitched a Nominee for Manhattan’s Powerful US Attorney Opening, Buzzfeed News, Aug. 7, 2017, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/the-white-house-has-pitched-a-nominee-for-manhattans.  

[9] See Vyskocil, supra n. 1 at 71.

[10] See id.

[11] See S.R. Int’l Bus. Ins. Co. v. World Trade Center Props. LLC, 467 F.3d 107 (2d Cir. 2006).

[12] See id.

[13] See Vyskocil, supra n. 1 at 46.

[14] See In re ChinaCast Educ. Corp., No. 16-13121 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. filed Nov. 9, 2016).

[15] See In re Collavino Constr. Co., Case Nos. 14-12908 & 15-10344 (Banr. S.D.N.Y. filed Oct. 17, 2014) (Jointly Administered).

[16] See In re Organic Ave. LLC, Case No. 15-12787 (Bankr. S.D.N.Y. filed Oct. 15, 2015).

[17] See Vyskocil, supra n. 1 at 67-68.

[19] See Vyskocil, supra n. 1 at 11-13.

[20] The Committee on Federal Courts, Revisiting the Codification of Privileges Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, 55 The Record 148, Jan/Feb 2000.

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