A judge assigned to hear two consolidated lawsuits challenging COVID-19 vaccine mandates in New York City today said she would not step down from the case as requested by the plaintiffs. Two other judges did recuse themselves this week after financial disclosures revealed they had investments in Pfizer and other vaccine makers.
A judge assigned to hear two consolidated lawsuits challenging COVID-19 vaccine mandates in New York City today said she would not step down from the case as requested by the plaintiffs.
Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald denied the plaintiffs’ motion to disqualify her from the case. Plaintiffs filed the motion Tuesday after financial disclosures revealed the judge owned $250,000 in Pfizer stock and $100,000 in Johnson & Johnson.
In her denial, Judge Buchwald said the plaintiffs’ motion was based on “outdated information.”
Although plaintiffs do not have access to current financial disclosures, Sujata Gibson, attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Defender said she is “hopeful” Judge Buchwald’s ruling means that any financial interest in the case “has been resolved and that any future potential conflicts by any presiding judges on the case are promptly disclosed going forward.”
Federal law prohibits federal judges from taking part in a case in which they have any financial interest, “no matter how small,” Gibson said.
Judge Buchwald’s decision came after two other judges assigned to the case, who also were asked by plaintiffs to disqualify themselves because of financial conflicts of interest, earlier this week recused themselves.
Judge Valerie E. Caproni, whose most recent financial disclosures revealed ownership of between $50,000 and $100,000 of Pfizer stock, was the first to recuse herself after plaintiffs on June 9 filed a joint motion seeking to disqualify her.
After the court appointed Judge Edgardo Ramos to replace Judge Caproni, the plaintiffs on June 13 filed a joint motion to disqualify him, also citing financial investments in COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers.
Judge Ramos recused himself Tuesday and was replaced by Judge Buchwald.
Sujata Gibson told The Defender she was shocked to find all four judges assigned to the case so far in the Southern District disclosed ownership of stocks in COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers in their most recent publicly available financial disclosures.
Judicial financial conflicts of interests are under increasing scrutiny in response to a Wall Street Journal investigation that found 152 federal judges around the nation violated U.S. law and judicial ethics by overseeing 1,076 court cases involving companies in which they or their family owned stock.
Plaintiffs were able to access the financial disclosures of the three conflicted judges after President Biden on May 13 signed the bipartisan Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, creating stricter reporting requirements for federal judges.
Proposed legislation would make it unlawful for federal judges to own individual stocks at all.
“Thousands of beloved teachers and educators have been suspended and terminated in violation of their sincerely held religious beliefs,” said Barry Black, co-counsel for plaintiffs. “It is crucial that no financial conflict compromise the decision-making process.”
Keil v. City of New York plaintiffs are represented by Jonathan R. Nelson, Barry Black and Sarah E. Child of Nelson Madden Black LLP.
Defendants, including the city of New York, are jointly represented in both cases by Lora Minicucci of the New York City Law Department.