This Installment addresses last week’s Memorandum Order on Thanksgiving Eve (the “Order”) by Judge Rakoff in the Wilpon Case that has been discussed in a number of recent blog entries in this blog series. (Capitalized terms used herein that are not defined herein shall have the meanings assigned to them in Installment 59.) In the Order, Judge Rakoff granted the request of Irving Picard, the Trustee in the Madoff bankruptcy proceeding, for a jury trial on those of the Trustee’s claims that seek to avoid transfers from Madoff to the Wilpon Interests as fraudulent.
During my discussions with Mr. Rubin, we agreed that the past history for Picard with respect to Judge Rakoff’s rulings has not been very favorable to Picard. While Picard did win a procedural victory regarding his desire for a jury trial, even this Order by Judge Rakoff is fraught with uncertainty. As quoted by Mr. Rubin in his Thanksgiving article,
. . . not only is a jury totally unpredictable, this case is highly complex and has created significant controversy among legal experts. Understanding of material aspects by a lay jury may be difficult or even impossible. In such a case a jury may feel more comfortable in grasping hold of simpler or limited concepts to which it can relate and can comprehend. This can lead to unexpected results.
This concern that both the Trustee and the Wilpon Interests should have regarding a jury trial is presented in a November 29, 2011 Law360.com article by Kaitlin Ugolik entitled “The Downside To An Aggressive Defense.” In the article Ms. Ugolik points out that some attorneys see attacking witness credibility as an integral part of defense strategy, but legal experts caution that tactics a jury may see as too harsh or aggressive can have the opposite of their desired effect, eliciting sympathy for the witness. In the Wilpon Case, it is not clear whether Picard or the Wilpon Interests, if either, will have a sympathy advantage with a jury. Moreover, the past history of open hostility between the two parties may well lead to the harsh or aggressive tactics about which Ms. Ugolik cautions, which could materially tilt the jury consensus.
On top of these factors, Judge Rakoff can still have the last word on the facts in a trial if he were to choose to take the case from the jury through a directed verdict or a judgment notwithstanding the jury verdict. As discussed in earlier blog postings there are potential material downside risks and uncertainties for both Picard and the Wilpon Interests if they cannot settle the claims in their current settlement discussions before the jury trial that Judge Rakoff has “firmly scheduled” for March 19, 2012.
[To be continued in Installment 65]
(Michael J. Kline, Esq., the author of this entry and a co-author of this blog, is a partner with Fox Rothschild LLP, based in our Princeton, NJ office, and is a past Chair of the firm’s Corporate Department. He concentrates his practice in the areas of corporate, securities, and health law, and frequently writes and speaks on topics such as corporate compliance, governance and business and nonprofit law and ethics.)