New York University employees can’t get a new trial in their retirement plan lawsuit by pointing out that the judge who ruled against them returned to private practice with a member of NYU’s board of trustees.
The employees challenged a July 2018 ruling by Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who left the bench to rejoin Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP shortly after deciding their case. Forrest’s decision may have been tainted by her talks with Cravath, because another firm partner is a member of NYU’s board of trustees, the employees argued.
Judge Analisa Torres denied their request for a new trial, saying it was based on an “extraordinarily attenuated chain of connections.” Cravath has more than 80 partners, and NYU has more than 60 trustees, and a single overlap isn’t enough to create an appearance of bias, Torres said.
Torres also threw out three declarations the employees submitted from “purported experts in the field of legal ethics.” The declarations, including one from former federal judge Timothy K. Lewis, said Judge Forrest should have disclosed that she was considering a return to Cravath and recused herself from the case.
These declarations are an impermissible attempt to “introduce expert declarations on a question of law,” Torres said.
NYU is one of 20 prominent universities to be accused of retirement plan mismanagement since 2016. Forrest’s ruling came after an eight-day trial—the only such trial in this line of cases.
Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP represents the NYU employees. DLA Piper US LLP represents the school.
The case is Sacerdote v. N.Y. Univ., S.D.N.Y., No. 1:16-cv-06284-AT, 7/1/19.
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