Lewis Liman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The judicial nomination process often involves dealmaking, where nominations are logrolled together to satisfy different stakeholders.  A perfect example of this is with regard to the 8-nominee New York package put together by the White House in consultation with Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.  As part of the package, the White House has nominated a candidate they wouldn’t otherwise consider: Lewis Liman.

Background

Lewis Jeffrey Liman was born in New York on December 3, 1960, the son of Arthur and Ellen Liman.  Liman’s father, Arthur L. Liman, was a famous lawyer in his own right, having led the Senate Iran-Contra Investigation.[1]  Liman grew up in New York City (on the Upper West Side) and then attended Harvard College and Yale Law School (with a stint at the London School of Economics in between).[2]

After graduating, Liman spent a year at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.  He then clerked for Judge Pierre Leval on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.[3]  At the Supreme Court, Liman clerked alongside an array of future legal luminaries including Judge Stephen Higginson, Judge Adalberto Jordan, Judge Randolph Moss, Judge Paul Engelmayer, Peter Keisler, Miguel Estrada, Richard Cordray, and Ronald Klain.

After his clerkships, Liman joined the New York office of Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP as an associate.  In 1994, Liman shifted to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, working under Mary Jo White.  In 1999, Liman moved to Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering LLP as a Partner.  In 2003, Liman joined the New York office of Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton LLP as a Partner.  He continues to serve there to this day.

History of the Seat

Liman has been tapped for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a seat vacated by Judge Paul Crotty.  While Crotty moved to senior status on August 1, 2015, President Obama never made a nomination to fill the vacancy.  However, at the time, Liman was recommended for the vacancy to Schumer by his Screening Committee.[4]

In April 2017, Liman was interviewed by the Trump Administration for nomination to the Southern District of New York.  Liman’s name was then broached to Schumer and Gillibrand as a part of a package of nominees.[5]  Once approved, Liman began the nomination process in November 2017 and was nominated on May 15, 2018.

Political Activity

Liman has been an active political donor, having made nearly forty political contributions over the last twenty five years, all to Democrats or Democratic-aligned organizations.[6] Among his donations, Liman has given to Schumer, Gillibrand, Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and John Kerry.[7]

Legal Career

After working briefly for the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and clerking, Liman has spent the bulk of his career either as a federal prosecutor or in private practice.

Federal Prosecutor

Liman worked as an Assistant United States Attorney in the Southern District of New York between 1994 and 1999.  In that role, Liman handled a wide variety of cases including white collar crime, organized crime, drugs, and financial crime.[8]

Among his more prominent cases, Liman prosecuted Autumn Jackson for extorting money out of Bill Cosby through blackmail, claiming that Cosby was her father.[9]  Alongside fellow AUSA Paul Engelmayer,[10] Liman led the trial examination and secured a guilty verdict.[11]  Notably, Liman’s father passed away during the trial, forcing a recess.[12]

Among other cases he handled, Liman prosecuted a junior analyst at J.P. Morgan for insider trading,[13] secured convictions against four members of the Cali drug cartel for smuggling approximately three thousand pounds of cocaine,[14] and prosecuted a tax accountant for preparing false tax returns on behalf of dozens of clients to help them evade taxes.[15]

Private Practice

Liman has spent most of his career in private practice, working at Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP from 1990 to 1994, at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering LLP from 1999 to 2003, and at Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton LLP since 2003.  In each of these positions, Liman’s practice focused on litigation.  In his first position at Cravath, for example, Liman focused on Antitrust litigation, including representing Time Warner Corporation.[16]

During his time at Wilmer, Liman focused on representing corporations in securities actions and white collar cases.  However, he also represented a coalition of religious groups arguing that a construction company responsible for a fire that almost destroyed the Central Synagogue should not be allowed to reduce their damages by the amount of charitable donations the organization took in.[17]  Liman also represented, upon court appointment, a New York prisoner seeking release after his conviction for burglary, successfully securing the prisoner’s release.[18]

While at Wilmer, Liman represented Tyco International executive Dennis Kozlowski.  During the investigation, emails from Liman were uncovered, which disclosed his knowledge of personal use of corporate funds by executives.[19]  The emails raised concerns as to whether Liman should have disclosed the violations to federal regulators.[20]

Since 2003, Liman has worked as a Partner at Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton LLP, focusing on securities litigation and white collar crime cases.  For example, Liman represented Bank of America in defending against a securities fraud action brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.[21]

While at Cleary, Liman argued his first and only case at the U.S. Supreme Court, representing a fund manager facing securities fraud allegations brought by the SEC.[22]  Liman was able to convince the Supreme Court that the actions brought against his client were untimely due to the five year gap between the SEC discovering the allegations and bringing suit.[23]

Writings

Liman has been a fairly prolific author, beginning his career by co-authoring a book with his mother while he was still a teenager.[24]  Liman has been particularly prolific on sentencing issues, exploring the weight and efficacy of the Sentencing Guidelines.[25]

In 1991, Liman authored a Letter to the Editor for the New York Times, discussing footnotes in Supreme Court decisions and its impact on “judicial restraint.”[26]  In the letter, written in response to a recent article,[27]  Liman argues that there is no correlation between the extensive use of footnotes in Supreme Court opinions and the lack of “judicial restraint,” noting:

“Judicial restraint is not equivalent to conservative judicial result, but is characterized by a reluctance to adopt rules broader than necessary to resolve a dispute and a willingness to listen to other voices in making a decision.”[28]

Overall Assessment

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Liman is a Democrat and a more liberal candidate than most Trump will put forward.  However, it is far from uncommon for Presidents to nominate judges of the opposing party to the bench.  As such, with both the Trump Administration and New York Democrats behind his candidacy, Liman is likely to sail through the confirmation process.

Interestingly, if Liman faces opposition, it will likely come from Republican senators who consider his record to be too “liberal.”  Nevertheless, his strong academic credentials and extensive legal experience should be sufficient to ensure a bipartisan confirmation.


[1] Lois Smith Brady, Weddings: Vows; Lisa Cohen and Lewis Liman, N.Y. Times, Jan. 24, 1999.

[2] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Lewis Liman: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] Id. at 49.

[5] 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.  

[6] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=lewis+liman&order=desc&sort=D (last visited July 31, 2018).

[7] See id.

[8] See Liman, supra n. 2 at 26.

[9] Greg B. Smith, Cos to Take the Stand in Extort Case, N.Y. Daily News, June 27, 1997.

[10] Engelmayer himself now serves on the SDNY bench, having been appointed by President Obama in 2011.

[11] Greg B. Smith, Autumn to Take a Big Fall, She’s Convicted of Cosby Extort, N.Y. Daily News, July 26, 1997.

[12] See Agent Ties Woman to Cosby Scheme, USA Today, July 18, 1997.

[13] Benjamin Weiser, An Insider Trading Charge at J.P. Morgan, N.Y. Times, Sept. 13, 1997.

[14] United States v. Garcia, 94 Cr. 78 (JES) (S.D.N.Y.).

[15] United States v. Abrams, 95 Cr. 285 (JES) (S.D.N.Y.), aff’d, 137 F.3d 704 (2d Cir. 1998).

[16] See Liman, supra n. 2 at 27.

[17] See Diana B. Henriques and Leslie Eaton, Once and Future Issue: Subtracting Donations from Damage Awards, N.Y. Times, Nov. 18, 2001.

[18] Stewart v. Strack, 99 Cv. 6400 (ERK) (E.D.N.Y.).

[19] Laurie P. Cohen and Mark Maremont, E-mails

[20] See id.

[21] In re Bank of America Secs. Litig., 09 MDL 2058 (PKC) (S.D.N.Y.).

[22] SEC v. Gabelli, 653 F.3d 49 (2d Cir. 2011), rev’d, 568 U.S. 442 (2013).

[23] See id.

[24] Ellen Liman and Lewis Liman, The Collecting Book (1980).

[25] See, e.g., Lewis J. Liman, Sentencing; ‘Extreme Vulnerability’ Revisited, New York Law Jounal, Mar. 7, 2003; Lewis J. Liman, Should Interdistrict Disparity be a Permissible Basis for Departure, 12 Fed. Sent’g Rep. 154 (1999); Lewis J. Liman, The Constitutional Infirmities of the United States Sentencing Commission, Yale L.J. 1363, 1987.

[26] Lewis Liman, High Court Wields a Powerful Footnote, N.Y. Times, Jan. 18, 1991.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

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.