U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York is departing the bench later this year, according to two sources with knowledge of the situation. In an email sent to colleagues late Tuesday afternoon, Forrest cited personal reasons for her departure, according to a source who had seen the email.
A clerk in the judge’s chambers Wednesday morning declined to discuss the matter. Forrest was in her courtroom at the time, and could not be reached.
Forrest is regarded as a great judicial colleague in the district—a hard worker who is more than willing to assist other members of the bench—according to another judge not authorized to talk about her departure, which was characterized as sad.
“We’re going to miss her,” the district judge said.
Forrest joined the bench relatively recently. She was nominated by President Barack Obama in early May 2011 for a seat vacated by Jed Rakoff, who had taken senior judge status. She secured passage in the U.S. Senate and joined the Southern District in October that year.
In an emailed statement, Rakoff said he was “immensely saddened that an outstanding judge like Judge Forrest is leaving the bench.
“Her high intelligence and devotion to the cause of justice will be deeply missed,” Rakoff added.
During her time on the bench, she presided over a number of high-profile cases. Early on, in 2012, she ruled against the Obama administration’s enforcement of indefinite military detention of suspects connected to Al-Qaeda, stating in her opinion that “due process requires more.” Her ruling was ultimately reversed on appeal for lack of standing.
In 2015 she made international headlines for sentencing Ross Ulbricht, known online as “Dread Pirate Roberts” and was behind the illicit online marketplace Silk Road. After being convicted on a number of conspiracy charges, including for trafficking narcotics, as well as money laundering and computer hacking, Forrest handed down a life sentence for Ulbricht.
In another case watched closely for its international implications, Forrest oversaw the jury trial in favor of the government’s pursuit of the seizure and sale of a skyscraper linked to Iranian interests as compensation to terrorism victims. Prosecutors at the time called it the largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture ever. That case is on appeal before the Second Circuit.
Most recently Forrest granted a motion to dismiss a trio of lawsuits against online retailers who allegedly wiretapped and spied on users using third-party marketing software that captured substantial information during visits.
Prior to joining the bench, Forrest was a litigation partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore ahead of a stint with the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division before her nomination.
A return to Cravath seems like a distinct possibility for Forrest, according to one source with knowledge of the situation. A spokesman for the firm declined to comment.
The judge’s departure will provide another opportunity for President Donald Trump to continue to make his mark on the federal judiciary in New York. Currently the district is facing five vacancies—four from judges taking senior status, and one to fill the vacancy of U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan should he be confirmed as a circuit judge for the Second Circuit by the U.S. Senate. Trump recently nominated two to fill district court vacancies: Lewis Liman, currently a partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, as well as Mary Kay Vyskocil, now on the bankruptcy bench in the district and formerly a senior litigation partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett.
This is a developing story.