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Lewis Kaplan

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Lewis Kaplan
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Current Court Information:
United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Title:   Senior Judge
Station:   New York, NY
Appointed by:   Bill Clinton
Active:   08/10/1994 - 01/31/2011
Senior:   02/01/2011 - Present
Preceded by:   Gerard Goettel
Personal History
Born:   1944
Hometown:   Staten Island, NY
Undergraduate:   University of Rochester, A.B., 1966
Law School:   Harvard Law, J.D., 1969

Lewis Kaplan is a senior judge for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. He joined the court in 1994 after being nominated by President Bill Clinton. Kaplan assumed senior status on February 1, 2011.

Early life and education

Born in Staten Island, New York, Kaplan graduated from Rochester with his bachelor's degree in 1966 and later graduated from Harvard Law School with his Juris Doctor in 1969.[1]

Professional career

Kaplan was a law clerk for former federal appeals Judge Edward McEntee for the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit from 1969 to 1970 before entering private practice in New York City until 1994.[1]

Judicial career

Southern District of New York

On the recommendation of U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Kaplan was nominated to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York by Bill Clinton on May 5, 1994, to a seat vacated by Gerard Goettel. Kaplan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on August 9, 1994, on a majority voice vote and received commission on August 10, 1994.[1]

Notable cases

Chevron victory in Ecuadorian pollution case (2014)

     United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Chevron Corp. v. Donziger, 1:11-cv-00691-LAK-JCF)

On March 4, 2014, Judge Kaplan ruled in favor of Chevron, an oil and natural gas company, in a case alleging that a multibillion dollar pollution judgment against it, issued by a foreign court, had been obtained through illegitimate means of fraud and corruption.[2]

In the underlying case, Judge Nicolas Zambrano of Ecuador found Chevron liable for polluting the Lago Agrio rainforest on February 14, 2011, assessing about $19 billion in damages and fines against the company. Chevron refused to pay the fines or accept responsibility for the pollution, and the company brought this case on U.S. soil, alleging that much of the evidence used to obtain judgment was fabricated by lead attorney Steven Donziger. Donziger denied the allegations, but the evidence against him detailing the fraud upon the court, up to and including bribing Judge Zambrano, was overwhelming. In an almost 500-page ruling, Judge Kaplan noted, "an innocent defendant is no more entitled to submit false evidence, to co-opt and pay off a court-appointed expert or to coerce or bribe a judge or jury than a guilty one."[2]

Judge Kaplan further noted that Donziger and his team subverted justice in their actions, writing:

Firstname is not served by inflicting injustice. The ends do not justify the means. There is no “Robin Hood” defense to illegal and wrongful conduct. And the defendants’ “this-is-the-way-it-is-done-in-Ecuador” excuses – actually a remarkable insult to the people of Ecuador – do not help them. The wrongful actions of Donziger and his Ecuadorian legal team would be offensive to the laws of any nation that aspires to the rule of law, including Ecuador.[2] [3]
Donziger pledged to appeal the ruling, calling it an "appalling decision from a deeply flawed proceeding."[2]

Gitmo detainee tried in U.S. civilian court (2009-2011)

     United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (United States, v. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, S10-98-cr-1023-LAK)

Judge Kaplan was the first federal judge to preside in a trial of a Guantanamo Bay detainee. On July 2, 2009, Judge Kaplan set a September 13, 2010, trial date for Ahmed Ghailani. Ghailani was charged with numerous crimes, including murder, for his involvement in the killings of 224 people and the injury of thousands more in nearly simultaneous bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. Ghailani, a Tanzanian, was alleged to be a bomb-maker for Osama Bin Laden, though other reports stated he was a cook and bodyguard. He had been held in the facility at Guantanamo Bay since 2006. The death toll from the attacks included 12 Americans.[4]

On November 19, 2009, the judge overturned his previous decision, finding that Ghailani did not have a right to be represented by his military defense lawyers in a civilian court. The lawyers had been reassigned by the Department of Defense although they were willing to represent the defendant, and the judge had previously allowed it. In the decision, Judge Kaplan found that Ghailani's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to due process and effective legal counsel would not be violated by his denial of the request. Despite so holding, the judge commented that there had been "near-insurmountable difficulties created by the U.S. government."[5]

During the trial, Judge Kaplan refused to allow prosecutors to introduce testimony from a witness whose identity was apparently discovered through interrogators' use of the Central Intelligence Agency's "enhanced interrogation techniques," which may have amounted to torture. A jury eventually found Ghailani guilty only of conspiracy to destroy government buildings, for which there was a possible sentence of 20 years to life in prison. The jury acquitted him of more than 280 other charges, including every count of murder. Observers criticized the proceedings on the basis that the evidence that had been barred would have been admissible if the trial had been held in a civilian court. Judge Kaplan suggested in his opinion that a military commission judge would have excluded the evidence as well, citing restrictions against the use of evidence obtained through torture in military trials.[6][7]

In January of 2011, although Ghailani had sought leniency due to the fact that he was tortured at a secret CIA detention site, Judge Kaplan imposed the maximum sentence of life in prison. He commented that whatever Ghailani had suffered "pales in comparison to the suffering and the horror" caused by the terrorist attacks.[6]

Freedom of association vs. law & order in NY (2010)

     United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Five Borough Bicycle Club, et al., v. The City of New York, 1:07-cv-02448-LAK)

Judge Kaplan ruled on February 16, 2010, that the City of New York did not violate the First Amendment when the New York Police Department instituted a new rule that would let them ticket or arrest any "recognizable group" of 50 or more cyclists riding together without first obtaining a parade permit from the Police Department.[8] One of the groups most affected was the organizers of "Critical Mass," a group that held frequent "bike protests" in the city. In 2004, during the Republican National Convention, over 100 cyclists were arrested for disorderly conduct after a group of roughly 5,000 of them rode past Madison Square Garden in protest against former President George W. Bush.[8]

After the law was passed, the Five Borough Bicycle Club (5BBC) sued the city in 2007, describing the process of obtaining permits as a "bureaucratic nightmare," and challenging the NYPD's assertion that it would ticket or arrest a group of 50 cyclists or more without a permit. The 5BBC asserted that the requirement violated its members' constitutional rights of expressive association, free speech, and to travel; several individual plaintiffs also asserted that the NYPD retaliated and selectively enforced regulations against those who participated in the Critical Mass rides.[8]

Judge Kaplan asserted his sympathy for the cycling groups' position and acknowledged the inconvenience of the law. Nonetheless, he found that the City of New York had a sufficient interest in facilitating traffic flow and protecting the interests of those on the road, and therefore, that there was no violation of the First Amendment.[8]

Lehman Brothers retirement income case (2010)

     United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (In re Lehman Brothers Securities and ERISA Litigation, 1:08-cv-05598-LAK)

On January 2, 2010, Judge Kaplan threw out a lawsuit involving participants of Lehman Brothers retirement plan filed against fund directors for failing to protect the plan when knowing of the deteriorating condition of the funds. Participants of the fund were seeking to recover damages after allegedly showing that directors violated the Employee Retirement Security Act. There was not enough evidence, according to the judge's ruling, to determine if Lehman's fund managers were negligent in handling the retirement funds.[9]

See also

External links


Federal judicial offices
Preceded by:
Gerard Goettel
Southern District of New York
Succeeded by:

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