Richard M. Berman got the luck of the draw this month.
The federal judge was assigned the case between the NFL, the NFL Players Association, and Tom Brady. Berman, who has senior status in District Court for the Southern District of New York, has pressed both sides hard to come to a settlement, something he has become known for in his 17-year career on the bench.
Here’s a more in-depth look at the judge who was appointed by Bill Clinton, was once cursed out in court by Motley Crue’s drummer, and now could decide the fate of the Patriots quarterback:
Education: B.S. from Cornell University (1964), J.D. from NYU (1967), Master of Social Work from Fordham University (1996).
Career timeline: Worked at a private practice from 1970 to 1974. Served as executive assistant for Jacob Javits, a US senator, from 1974 to 1977. Named executive director of the New York State Alliance to Save Energy in 1977. Worked as general counsel and executive vice president of Warner Cable Corporation from 1978 to 1986. Worked at a private practice in New York City from 1986 to 1995. Became a judge in the New York State Family Court in Queens County in 1995, serving until 1998, when president Bill Clinton appointed him to the District Court for the Southern District of New York. Obtained senior status on Sept. 11, 2011, where he has served since.
In his own words
“This means that I pursue settlement options early and often; I try to rule on motions quickly and I try not to waste any time at trial.”
What colleagues have said
“If there’s anybody on our bench who can resolve a case, it’s Richard.”
— Judge William H. Pauley III, who presided over a lawsuit New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez brought against Major League Baseball last year over his suspension
“A famous settlement judge. He’s very good at it. He understands people and the pressures on people and he’s always calm himself, never ruffled.”
— Chief Judge Loretta A. Preska
Berman is known for wanting to settle cases, rather than proceed to trial. Why? It’s simple.
“On the one hand, there’s just the fight,” Preska said. “But also, if we have to make a ruling, often it’s with a meat cleaver. They can craft a settlement with a scalpel, a much more nuanced settlement that will make everybody happy.”
In 17 years on the bench, Berman has faced more than the usual caseload of famous and infamous defendants and has shown a knack for brushing aside distractions to resolve underlying legal issues. When he decides someone has abused the judicial system, he can be harsh:
■ In 2012, he gave actor Michael Douglas’s son a break, sentencing Cameron Douglas to only five years in prison on drug charges after he cooperated with the government. But he later doubled the sentence to 10 years and scolded the son, calling him “destructive” and “manipulative” after he persuaded a lawyer-turned-love interest to sneak drugs into prison in her bra.
■ Perhaps his most challenging case came when Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani scientist who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University, was charged with shooting at FBI agents and US soldiers at an Afghan police station in 2008. She punctuated her court appearances with outbursts that called her sanity and the likelihood of a trial into question. She was convicted and sentenced to 86 years in prison.
Sabrina Shroff, an assistant public defender who observed some Siddiqui proceedings, said Berman “has a knack for recognizing exactly what it takes to run a courtroom.”
“Never was this more apparent than in the trial of Aafia Siddiqui, who was a very sad and troubled defendant. It was obvious he was deeply concerned about her all through the trial and his concern for her continued even after her conviction,” Shroff said.
■ In April 2001, Berman demonstrated his distaste for lawyers wasting the time of the court and the jury. A record company — in a claim against former Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee — settled with a Swedish man just as a jury reached a verdict. Berman instructed the jury to reveal its verdict in Lee’s favor, prompting the drummer, who had argued against settling, to curse his lawyers and yell “Idiot!”
This and that
■ At the gathering of the 2nd Circuit Judicial Conference, Preska held up a pen that she said Berman gave lawyers when they settled cases. The pen, she noted, contained a quote from the first rule of civil procedure, which cautions that the rules should be “construed and administered to ensure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action.”
■ He was general counsel of Warner Cable and MTV Networks Inc. when pay-per-view was developed, the first video disc jockeys were hired, and the first music videos were released.