President Donald Trump Thursday nominated a host of New York judge nominees for the state’s Southern, Eastern and Western districts on Thursday, potentially filling key vacancies in some of the busiest federal courts in the country.
For the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Trump nominated two attorneys with Big Law backgrounds in Wall Street firms. The Southern District nominees include Lewis Liman, currently a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, as well as Mary Kay Vyskocil, now on the bankruptcy bench of the Southern District and formerly a senior litigation partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
Across the East River in Brooklyn, Trump nominated a quartet of former prosecutors. U.S. Magistrate Judge Gary Brown of the Eastern District of New York was nominated alongside Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane Gujarati, serving in the Southern District of New York. They were joined by the general counsel for Viking Global Investors, Eric Komitee. The president also nominated Rachel Kovner, assistant to the U.S. solicitor general, for a Brooklyn federal judgeship.
The list represents a rare moment of bipartisan accord between the office of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and the White House said it was a collaborative one.
“This slate of nominations was the result of a sound, collaborative and bipartisan process that produced a balanced group of well-respected and legally qualified choices with broad support,” said Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro. “We will work across the aisle in a collaborative way to further vet and, where justified by performance and record, approve these nominees via the Senate hearings process.”
The results, according to observers among the federal bar, are a good signal that quality judges could soon be coming to the overburdened federal courts.
“The president has proposed a star-studded, bipartisan slate of nominees for the Southern and Eastern districts,” Sullivan & Cromwell partner Robert J. Giuffra Jr. said in a statement provided to the New York Law Journal. “These nominees include some of the best and brightest judges and lawyers in our state, including sitting bankruptcy and magistrate judges, respected former prosecutors, former Supreme Court clerks, and partners of major law firms.”
Prior to her appointment to the bankruptcy bench in 2016, Vyskocil practiced general commercial litigation for more than 30 years at Simpson Thacher. She joined Simpson Thacher after graduating from St. John’s University School of Law in 1980. At Simpson Thacher, where she became partner in the firm in 1991, Vyskocil handled commercial cases, including insurance and reinsurance disputes, contract and tort issues, bankruptcy-related issues, securities and antitrust law. She represented major insurers in coverage litigation in a variety of contexts, including environmental, asbestos, breast implants and other mass tort claims. She represented Swiss Re for coverage issues arising out of the World Trade Center attack and Country-Wide and UBS for litigation involving residential mortgage-backed securities.
Liman has handled a range of civil, commercial and white-collar criminal litigation since joining Cleary Gottlieb in 2003. Before joining the firm, Liman was a partner at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering and previously served for five years as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. At the prosecutor’s office, he rose to serve as deputy chief of appeals. After earning his J.D. from Yale Law School, Liman spent a brief period as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. Liman clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens at the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Brown has served as a magistrate judge in the Eastern District since 2011. In 2014, he was selected to serve on the Committee of Magistrate Judges that handled the more than 1,400 cases filed in Brooklyn in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Prior to joining the bench, Brown was director of litigation and CCO of CA Technologies—the same firm that the current U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, Richard Donoghue, was at just before his appointment. Brown is likewise an alum of the Brooklyn federal prosecutor’s office before going into private practice, becoming chief of the Long Island Criminal Division.
This isn’t Brown’s first go-around as a nominee. He was one of the nominees, that former President Barack Obama had offered to the U.S. Senate that went unresolved before he left office. He was nominated in 2015.
Brown isn’t the only person nominated before by Obama to make it on to Trump’s list. Gujarati, also nominated to be an Article III judge on Thursday, was first tapped in 2016.
Gujarati has been a longtime assistant U.S. attorney across the East River in the Southern District of New York. She is currently the deputy chief of the office’s Criminal Division. A veteran trial attorney, Gujarati has handled a number of cases over the years, including overseeing the trial and conviction of al-Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghaith. Prior to joining the Manhattan prosecutors’ office in 1999, Gujarati was a litigation associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell. She’s currently a member of the board of the Asian American Bar Association of New York. Schumer in a statement pointed out she would be, if confirmed, the first Indian-American to serve on one of New York’s Article III federal courts.
Schumer said further that, “I have three main criteria in choosing federal judges—excellence, moderation and diversity—and Diane Gujarati perfectly fits that bill.”
Trump’s third nominee for the bench in Brooklyn is the only one not currently in a government position. Komitee is currently general counsel at the New York firm Viking Global Investors. He, too, has a background as a prosecutor, having served for eight years as an assistant in the Eastern District office, rising to become the chief of the business and securities fraud section. Before his time as a prosecutor, Komitee worked as an associate at both Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom as well as Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
Finally, Kovner has represented the U.S. government as assistant to the solicitor general since 2013. Prior to the Solicitor’s Office, Kovner served in the Southern District of New York as a federal prosecutor. She argued cases before both the district court, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Like the Southern District, the Eastern District also has four vacancies.
For the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Trump nominated John Sinatra Jr., a partner at Buffalo firm Hodgson Russ, where he has focused on complex civil and commercial litigation. Before joining the firm, Sinatra was senior counsel in the U.S. Department of Commerce and was an associate at Jones Day. Sinatra earned his J.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo School of Law.
Should the U.S. Senate approve Sinatra’s nomination, he would fill the one vacancy in the Western District.
Schumer singled out the nominations of Brown, Liman—who he called “beyond qualified”—and Gujarati for praise.
Speaking of Brown, Schumer said that “In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Gary’s rulings as a magistrate judge crucially uncovered fraud by some companies seeking to profit off the vulnerability of New York’s homeowners.”
Roefaro confirmed the New York senior senator’s endorsement of Sinatra for the Western District post.