US District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis denied Keith Raniere’s motion for recusal and disqualification from hearing Raniere’s Rule 33 motion for a new trial. Raniere claims in his Rule 33 motion that the FBI tampered with evidence in his case.
Garaufis presided over Raniere’s six-week jury trial from May 7 to June 19, 2019.
On May 6, 2022, Raniere filed a motion asking Judge Garaufis to disqualify himself, citing three examples of alleged bias.
Judge Garaufis’ portrait
An exchange between the judge and Raniere’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo, occurred during and after the judge stopped his cross-examination of Lauren Salzman.
At Clare Bronfman’s September 30, 2020, sentencing hearing.
Raniere argued Judge Garaufis’ choice to “tripl[e] the sentence of Ms. Bronfman, a first-time offender, because she refused to ‘renounce’ Mr. Raniere and the NXIVM organization” evidenced bias.
At Raniere’s July 20, 2021, restitution hearing.
Raniere alleged, “Judge Garaufis displayed an unacceptable bias toward Mr. Raniere’s Defense team.”
On May 9, 2022, Judge Garaufis stated he would defer deciding the Rule 33 and recusal motions until the Second Circuit resolved Raniere’s appeal of his conviction.
On January 3, 2023, the Second Circuit denied Raniere’s appeal of his conviction and Bronfman’s appeal of her sentence.
Raniere then filed with the Second Circuit a petition for a writ of mandamus, seeking the Second Circuit to order Judge Garaufis to disqualify himself on the Rule 33 motion.
On March 20, 2023, the Second Circuit denied that petition, handing the Rule 33 and recusal motions back to Garaufis.
Judge Garaufis wrote about recusal, quoting various cases.
He wrote it is not necessarily wrong for a judge to have a bad opinion of a defendant. It is not “whether the judge in question holds a ‘favorable or unfavorable disposition or opinion,’ but whether such views are ‘wrongful or inappropriate.'”
He also said it is not grounds for recusal if a judge is “short tempered,” “critical or disapproving of, or even hostile to, counsel, the parties, or their cases,” or “exceedingly ill disposed towards the defendant, who has been shown to be a thoroughly reprehensible person’ throughout the trial.”
Judge Garaufis then addressed the three incidents of alleged bias, starting with Lauren Salzman.
He pointed out that the Second Circuit denied Raniere appeal on the curtailing of Salzman’s cross-examination, and the US Supreme Court, on April 17, declined to hear Raniere’s appeal.
Judge Garaufis wrote, “Here, the court’s choice to curtail cross-examination of a witness to avoid needless harassment and attend to the witness’s wellbeing was well within the bounds of a trial judge’s discretion…
“Even if the court’s comments at times evinced not just frustration and impatience, but some sort of distaste for the defendant, no reasonable observer would, after witnessing the trial over which the court was then presiding, earnestly believe that the distaste was the result of some sort of extrajudicial bias or deep-seated antagonism.”
Restitution Hearing Conduct
Judge Garaufis wrote, “any conduct evincing bias was allegedly aimed toward an attorney hired by Defendant Raniere… and there is no evidence that any disagreement between the court and that counsel reflected a broader issue between the court and the defendant… T]he allegedly biased conduct was directed only toward one of a series of lawyers representing the defendant, and never toward the defendant himself.”
Judge Garaufis wrote regarding Bronfman that he “did take into consideration Defendant Bronfman’s continued support for Defendant Raniere after learning the full extent of his criminal conduct” and that he was “primarily concerned with Bronfman’s actions after she found out about DOS in June 2017, including her reinvigorated support of Raniere….
“The court carefully articulated the ways in which Defendant Bronfman’s actions in devotion to Defendant Raniere without regard to the seriousness of his crimes had reflected a sincere lack of respect of the law…
“The Second Circuit, affirming this court in full, agreed wholeheartedly with this assessment, pointing out that her ‘conduct-before and after her indictment- readily distinguishe[d] her’ from her co-defendants, and reiterating this court’s assertion that the context for her criminal conduct set her far apart from other defendants convicted of the same offenses.”
In short, this means Judge Garaufis will decide on the Rule 33 motion.