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NYC Teachers Target Third Judge in Vaccine Case Over Drug Stocks

June 14, 2022, 11:42 PM

New York City teachers want a third federal judge off their pandemic vaccine case over potential stock ownership conflicts, this time for what they say are stakes in Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson.

The teachers asked Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in the Southern District of New York to recuse herself from their challenge to the city’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate for education workers after she was assigned to the case on Tuesday.

Two other judges at the Manhattan court were off the case after the teachers requested they recuse themselves for similar holdings.

The moves come as judicial stock holdings are under increased scrutiny. A Wall Street Journal report that found at least 131 judges heard cases in which they or a family member had a stock conflict prompted a new federal law requiring judicial financial disclosures be publicly accessible online.

Judge Valerie E. Caproni, the initial judge on the case, recused after the teachers asked her to disqualify herself because of investments in Pfizer. According to her financial disclosure, the teachers said Caproni held between $50,000 and $100,000 in Pfizer stock at the end of 2020.

In a June 11 order, Caproni said the court didn’t believe the case would meaningfully affect the stock value of Pfizer—regardless of the result—but recused anyway “out of an abundance of caution and to avoid even the possible appearance of any bias or prejudice.”

The case was reassigned to Judge Edgardo Ramos, who the teachers also asked to recuse for his holdings in Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and other companies. The case was then reassigned to Buchwald after one day.

Buchwald held Pfizer stock and Johnson & Johnson stock at the end of 2020, the teachers said, citing her financial disclosure.

Buchwald didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The teachers are represented by Nelson Madden Black and the Gibson Law Firm.

The defendants—which include the City of New York, the Board of Education of the School District of New York, and the New York City Department of Education—are represented by the New York City Law Department.

The consolidated cases are Kane et al v. de Blasio et al, S.D.N.Y., No. 21-cv-07863, plaintiff’s motion to disqualify 6/14/22 and Keil et al v. The City of New York et al, S.D.N.Y., No. 21-cv-08773, plaintiff’s motion to disqualify 6/14/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com