Madoff Trustee Wins a Playoff Game in the Second Circuit but Later Has Wilpon Game Suspended by Judge Rakoff for Darkness – Installment 57

August 22, 2011Articles White Collar Defense & Compliance Blog

This Installment in the series on this blog will focus on the whirlwind of activity this past week that had sports writers and fans of the New York Mets buzzing about an appellate opinion rendered by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday and a hearing in a Federal District courtroom in Manhattan at 4 P.M. on a Friday afternoon in mid-August about the Bernard L. Madoff scandal (“Madoff”).

Second Circuit Court Opinion Issued August 16, 2011

Last Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (the “Circuit Court”) issued its long-awaited opinion (the “Opinion”) regarding the method of calculating the amount that net “losers” in the Madoff enterprise are entitled to recover. The Circuit Court adopted the “Net Investment Method” proposed by the Trustee Irving Picard rather than the “Last Statement Method” for the Madoff case, which limits the class of customers who have allowable claims against the [Madoff] customer property fund to those customers who deposited more cash into their investment accounts than they withdrew because only those customers have positive “net equity” under that method.

The Last Statement Method had been put forth by some Madoff victims to allow the “losers” to use the fictitious amounts reflected in their final Madoff account statements as the basis for the amounts that they lost in the scandal.

The Opinion immediately set off a plethora of conjecture by Mets fans, sports writers, attorneys and legal scholars as to what impact, if any, the Opinion would have on the hearing (the “Hearing”) to be held in the Trustee’s case against the Wilpon/Katz families, the Mets owners, in the Federal District courtroom in Manhattan of Judge Jed S. Rakoff last Friday (the “Wilpon Case”).

On August 18, 2011 Richard Sandomir and Ken Belson published an article in The New York Times entitled “Madoff Decision Is Significant Setback for Owners of Mets,” that provided analysis of the impact of the Opinion. The article pointed out that the Opinion dealt with alleged net “losers” in the Madoff scandal, who were trying to recover more from the Trustee, and not those parties who were alleged net “winners,” such as the Wilpons, who were trying to resist the Trustee’s $300 million “clawback” efforts and his attempt to recover $700 million in principal as well for alleged “willful blindness” of the Wilpons to the Madoff scheme.

The Sandomir/Belson article pointed out that the Opinion itself stated it was not addressing the issue of alleged willful blindness of the Wilpons: ‘It is not contended on this appeal that any [Madoff] victim knew or should have known that the investment and customer statements were fictitious.’ As to the question of the impact of the Opinion on clawback in the Wilpon case, the Sandomir/Belson article observed, “legal experts were divided on whether the appeals court ruling would embolden Picard in his bid to recoup as much money as possible from Wilpon and Katz.”

Hearing on Wilpon Case on August 19, 2011

The frenzy of activity affecting the Wilpon case continued last Friday. Installment 54 of this series pointed out that there was a new playing field and environment to be confronted by the Trustee with the entry by Judge Rakoff into the picture. By his actions at the Hearing, Judge Rakoff confirmed that the game in his court will differ from the home field advantage that Mr. Picard has enjoyed in the bankruptcy court.

On Friday, Adam Rubin wrote an article for ESPN.com entitled, “Ruling on Tossing Suit vs. Wilpons Will Wait,” in which he said “[Judge] Rakoff set a trial date for March but cautioned not to read into that about his likelihood of tossing the case beforehand.” Therefore, after summoning all parties to his courtroom for the Hearing on the eve of a late summer weekend, Judge Rakoff heard lengthy arguments by the attorney teams for the Trustee and the Wilpons but reserved ruling on any of the matters before him.

Among other things Mr. Rubin reported that “[e]xperts believe the $700 million portion [of principal return] may ultimately be rejected by Rakoff, but they still expect the Wilpons to be on the hook for a $300 million ‘clawback’. . . .” The Wilpons had argued at the Hearing that the Opinion was not applicable to the Wilpon Case.

As a consequence, under the specter of the potential for dismissal of all or part of the Wilpon Case by Judge Rakoff in late September at the earliest, the parties must now preliminarily prepare for the possibility of a highly extensive and expensive public trial, while being admonished to vigorously seek settlement. Mr. Rubin noted that former New York governor Mario Cuomo, who has been appointed mediator in the Wilpon Case, was in the courtroom.

One thing is clear. The Wilpon Case is not over and will continue to generate considerable interest and potentially new legal precedents. After his article was published, Mr. Rubin said, “Hopefully I'm done for a few days with the topic.” Presumably he desires to return his attention to the fields on which Mets baseball is usually played.

[To be continued in Installment 58]