US District Court Judge Eric Ross Komitee, the presiding judge in the matter of Edmondson, et al, against Raniere, et al,, has experience with wealthy people, whether sophisticated, or the type who have more money than brains, such as perhaps two of the defendants, Clare and Sara Bronfman.
Judge Komitee has been a United States District Judge, for the Eastern District of New York – a lifetime appointment – for only two years and almost three months.
He was appointed on December 5, 2019.
Donald Trump nominated him.
A look at Komitee’s career might be of interest to those following the NXIVM case.
Komitee was born in Freeport NY, on Dec. 21, 1970, making him 51 years old. He attended Emory University, a private university in Atlanta, Georgia, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts and was honored with induction into Phi Beta Kappa.
This suggests he did well quite academically, since the honor society, considers only students who attend about 10 percent of America’s colleges and universities and who are in typically the top 10 percent academically, with a GPA of at least 3.8 out of a 4.0.
He went to New York University School of Law, earning his Juris Doctor cum laude, which means he was, again, a very good student.
He was also good with written words, apparently, since he was senior notes and comments editor of the university’s Law Review, which publishes scholarly articles about the law by law professors, judges, and lawyers and the Notes, which Komitee edited, written by students.
After law school, Komitee began work in the judicial branch of the US government, becoming a law clerk to Judge James Larry Edmondson, with the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Edmondson was Ronald Reagan’s nominee.
As a young man in his 20s, Komitee left the judiciary branch and went into private practice as an associate with Cravath, Swaine and Moore, a law firm that has perhaps the whitest shoes of all white-shoe firms in America.
Cravath devised the “Cravath System“, a method of hiring, training, compensating and promoting lawyers to partnership, which rather revolutionized law firms from smaller firms to the big law firms with specialists in every aspect of the law the firm seeks to serve clients in.
Komitee’s first job in private practice was with this old guard, prestigious, staid, firm with about 500 lawyers, and affluent clients who do lots of legal things, sometimes to each other, like sue or buy or both and other good and legal things that the rich do, as part of the ever slippery conditions of human life, which makes it a challenge to acquire, hold, and keep out of rascals’ hands and pass wealth down to their children instead of letting the rascals get most of it after death.
Young Komitee worked in a world where youth defers to age, where seniority is equated with wisdom, where a man of 29 is a boy. It should have been an education working with a firm known for complex and high profile litigation, and mergers and acquisitions, working side by side with senior lawyers, mostly men whose names you don’t see much in the media, who do not want to appear much in the media but know the law; they know influential people and know manners, and they know the judges, for judges, after all, were only lawyers before they donned black robes, acquiring the position usually through political connections.
Young Komitee worked at Cravath in securities underwriting and mergers and acquisitions, staying about two years as an associate lawyer. He must not have seen a partnership path with Cravath, or didn’t care for it. It has been said that once a partner at Cravath, always a partner. Why not, the average Cravath partner earned a $4.6 million salary in 2020, according to American Lawyer Magazine.
Unlike federal judges, who can remain for life, even when they are so elderly they can do little more than sleep on the bench, a partner at Cravath has to retire at 65.
But Komitee left Cravath, and, while still in his 20s, to become an associate lawyer for another law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
Skadden, an American multinational law firm, headquartered in New York City, founded in 1948, is a law firm so potent, prominent and competent – at least in the billings department – that their 1700 or so lawyers, with an elite clientele, billed some $2.6 billion last year.
It takes four to 7 years to become a partner, where compensation varies based on the partners talent for bringing in the sheaves – but online reports suggest a partner there will make from $700,000 to $7 million, and an associate might get $200,000.
Skadden ranks among the top 10 U.S. law firms by perhaps the most significant metric –revenue.
At Skadden, Komitee specialized in regulatory compliance and, in white-collar crime, helping defend those who ran afoul of myriad federal laws that permit the executive branch of government to, if they choose, to basically pick a target first, then figure out which federal statute, regulation, rule or even sometimes a statute he or she violated.
As Komitee likely learned in NYC, the capital city of the money game, once the feds clamp down on a dude, they pretty much embody the old adage of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police – “they always get their man.”
They get him, usually by plea bargain or settlement — by kind of taking the judiciary out of the equation. The feds settle without trial about 97 percent of the time without bothering a judge with convening a jury.
They often do this by overcharging a victim [defendant] then, after letting him stew for a time, offer a plea deal with a far lighter punishment, than the overcharged crimes would carry. Ultimately the defendant takes the plea deal rather than risk trial where the sentence may be years of unwarranted prison because of overcharging and draconian punishments of federal laws.
Once again, Komitee did not, apparently, see a career path – or partnership path with Skadden, so he went back to government, this time with the executive branch.
At age 30 Komitee became an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, the same office that prosecuted Keith Alan Raniere, though Komitee was not with the office when the EDNY commenced its prosecution of Raniere in late 2017.
Komitee stayed for eight years, and by the time he left, he was head of the Business and Securities Fraud section of the EDNY.
In the white collar world, on the other side of the fence, the prosecution, success is measured in dollars and felonies. In the world of fed regulatory, where Komitee hung his hat, it is measured mire in dollars – to the feds.
The 93 US Attorneys Offices compete, at least informally, for money collected – seizures, asset forfeiture, fines etc. and each district has asset forfeiture experts.
Komitee’s job was to decide what folks, usually those who handled other people’s money, should be charged criminally, or fined civilly or both for their alleged deeds and misdeeds.
After about eight years, it should shock no one, that being a young man in such a position of power – now even the most senior lawyers with Cravath or Skadden, gray haired men who would merely nod at the young, nameless associate lawyer, would tip their hat or take it off and come to him with hat in hand – looking for his help with their elite clients who were paying big money to avoid penalties.
The power to seek an indictment or shutter a business owned by men who made 10 to 100 times Komitee’s salary was his, and no one ever said he used his power unfairly or unwisely, other than the inherent unfairness of the federal system that permits the government to indict a man – ruin him first – punishment first – and then go to trial [on rare occasions].
But the pay was low, [according to the DOJ, an AUSA earns today not more than $176,000] and perhaps his disposition inclined more towards justice [after all in most cases, the DOJ prosecutor is prosecutor, judge and jury – based on plea bargaining] than money collected in fines, or convictions.
It was not hard for Komitee to hop back to where the grass and the cash was greener.
He was brushing elbows, and sometimes scaring, billionaires and people who know billionaires and manage their money, when someone espied this smart young, personable, honest young man and at 37 years of age, they offered him a substantial pay increase.
Much like Moira Kim Penza did after leading the prosecution of Keith Raniere, Komitee moved to the private sector and likely doubled or tripled his income.
He became chief lawyer and served on the management committee of a hedge fund called Viking Global Investors LP, out of Greenwich CT, reportedly managing as much as $48 billion.
He worked for Global for about 11 years, working closely with the CEO, risk managers and anyone who might tread into bad territory legally, keeping them safe and able to grow.
While he was there, for reasons better explained perhaps somewhere else, Global chose to downsize, returning some $8 billion to investors, being therefore qualified to be categorized or regulated somewhat differently, which probably meant more profit and less hassle from government, which shows that in hedge funds sometimes less is more.
At Global, he was tasked with the opposite of what he did with the DOJ – keeping people out of trouble with the DOJ.
As a result of his experience, law clerk for a judge, associate at two prestigious law firms, stint as a prosecutor, and general counsel for guys who handled investors’ money, Komitee learned the ropes of regulating compliance in financial matters, and how it relates to institutional investors, high net worth individuals, sophisticated investors and dunces too, and for those whose business it is to manage investors’ money.
He knows about trading relatively liquid assets, about complex trading, portfolio-construction, risk management, short selling, leveraging, derivatives and other complex investment techniques. He knows about mutual funds and ETFs, private equity funds, and fixed and open end capital withdrawal, net asset value, illiquid assets, a funds’ regulatory status, and he understands the different views of what constitutes a “hedge fund.”
In short, he knows money and the world of money and how people who have money make more money with their money.
Then he decided to become a judge and took a pay cut.
Still, there are advantages to being a federal judge. It is a lifetime appointment. They make over $200,000 per year, have generous pension, ample vacation – in fact they set their own vacation schedule, and if they get older and want to go on senior status they still get paid and can come in whenever they like.
Of course, to become a federal judge means one must be politically connected – Komitee is Republican – who had to get the nod from two Democratic Senators and know a lot of people who are not adverse to acquiring influence by helping people get elected who will later recommend you for something fine.
But to become a good judge is to put that all behind you, if that’s possible, to not favor friends and those who pushed you up on the way upward, or disfavor those whose path you might have crossed whose conduct was less than favorable to your best interests when you were in the adversarial world of private law practice or of prosecuting individuals for the government.
The legal community in any community – including even the biggest in NYC is finite and lawyers and judges know each other.
“To go to the judge is to go to justice; for the nature of the judge is to be a sort of animate justice,” Aristotle said. We don’t want a judge to take it personal.
He is justice personified, an “intermediate,” as Aristotle observed, for if the adverse parties “get what is intermediate they will get what is just.”
In the NXIVM case, as you can see, there is a quest for money and this judge is not inexperienced.
He is a quiet, articulate man, extremely intelligent, well mannered – as one would expect of a gentleman who has worked alongside some of the most sophisticated people in the world – and some of the wealthiest.
He would not be awed by Bronfman money or cowed by their attorneys. He might know the attorneys and worked with them on cases in the past – like many judges unavoidably must do on the bench.
He would not fail to understand the Bronfman lawyers’ positions, their challenges and aspirations. He would not be unfamiliar with the need for attorneys to deliver for clients.
He would also be aware of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ efforts and, while some have said Komitee was a bit challenging, if not almost admonishing of the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Philadelphia [non New York City] lawyer Neil Glazer, his demeanor seemed equitable and it is sometimes seen that judges sometimes admonish a lawyer just before ruling in his favor.
Glazer incidentally is not a white shoe lawyer. Kind of a homespun lawyer, he evinces passion for his clients that seems to feel like it may not be just about money, but that the man sometimes delves into that delicate but remote land known as justice.
Ultimately the NXIVM case may go to a jury, though I rather doubt it.
It may get settled or dismissed, but by the luck of the draw, the parties got an intermediate who knows about both sides of this dispute – one which is really between the Bronfmans and the a select core of DOS and NXIVM women than anyone else in his courtroom.
He is making his impress slowly. He understands this case is about money, Bronfman money and that the other defendants are not the targets except as a conduit to show a connection to whatever crimes or torts occurred because of the Bronfman’s investment of money and participation into an organization which they either did or did not know was corrupt or reckless, with a leader who was both.
Judge Garaufis was the criminal trial judge and undoubtedly he became emotional, angry and visibly upset at times by the crimes revealed in his courtroom and the conduct of some who were before him.
It is fascinating that the civil case is presided over by judge who might be described as quite the opposite.
Granted he is here to judge in a case about money, not the freedom of a human being, he will hear some rather salacious details, some pretty convincing tales of abuse. How much of it was caused by the Bronfman’s is the real question.
Don’t expect much emotion. This judge, though young, has seen a lot and won’t be intemperate. Long before trial, this case will most likely be decided on the papers filed and the law and arguments fleshed out more in writing than in the courtroom.