Over a beautiful, sunny weekend earlier this month (May 17-19), commercial litigators and judges from all over the State converged on Saratoga Springs and the beautiful Gideon Putnam Hotel, for the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section Spring 2024 Meeting.  In addition to the receptions, dinners, golf and after-program discussions, all of which were excellent, the Spring Meeting was jam-packed with two days of substantive, thought-provoking and forward-thinking topics. The program was remarkable enough that we here at New York Commercial Division Practice thought it appropriate to report the goings-on for all that could not attend.  

A Thought-Provoking Discussion on Artificial Intelligence and the Law

After a wonderful opening reception and dinner on Friday night to kick off the Meeting, including introductory remarks from ComFed Chair Anne B. Sekel, Esq.; Chair-Elect, Michael Cardello III, Esq.; and Simply Saratoga author, Carol Godette, NYSBA members in attendance were in for a treat first thing Saturday morning, when former Farrell Fritz partner and current U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York, Hon. James L. Wicks; U.S. District Court Judge for the Southern District of New York, Hon. Mary Kay Vyskocil; Ralph Cater, Esq.; Moya Novella, Esq.; and Stephen Breidenbach, Esq. led a panel discussion about what AI and its platforms are, how they work (or do not work), and how AI is used by litigators in practice.  The panel had attendees on the edge of their seats, demonstrating in real-time the functionality of various AI platforms performing legal tasks such as drafting extension letters, briefs, and deposition outlines, all while attempting to incorporate individual court practice rules.  The panel then took up the ethical and other implications of using AI, including in regards to the duty of competence, duty of diligence, duty to communicate, duty of confidentiality, and the unauthorized practice of law.  It was a great start to the Meeting.  

Everything You Wanted to Know about Bankruptcy but Were Afraid to Ask 

Next up, Hon. Jill Mazer-Marino, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of New York; Alan Brody, Esq.; Sheryl Giugliano, Esq.; and Fred Stevens, Esq. took the stage for an enthralling discussion on what commercial litigators need to know and be wary of in bankruptcy proceedings.  The discussion started with a continuation from the last meeting of bankruptcy 101, explaining the pertinent bankruptcy processes that commercial litigators need to know.  The panel then discussed particular issues that commercial litigators need to be cognizant of, including the automatic stay, adversary proceedings and jurisdictional issues, contested matters and tips and strategies for navigating these proceedings.

A Panel on Emotional Intelligence, Mental Health, and Success in Litigation

Fellow blogger and Farrell Fritz attorney, Viktoriya Liberchuk, closed out Day 1 of the Meeting by moderating a fantastic panel including Clinical Psychologist, Kerry Murray O’Harya, as well as Robin H. Gise, Esq., and Robert Holtzman, Esq. in a thought-provoking discussion on the effects of stress and mental health on commercial litigators.  Covering topics such as how the personality of litigators lends itself to increased stress to how to spot and address stress and mental health issues in ourselves and our colleagues and staff, this panel opened many eyes with its discussion.  If practitioners are so inclined and can find the time to peruse the materials for this panel, it is certainly worth doing so.

Evening Gala and Awards Ceremony 

As always, the cocktail reception and gala dinner did not disappoint.  A who’s who of federal and state judges, and the federal-court and Commercial Division bar generally, converged to honor the Hon. Elizabeth A. Gary, Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department, with the Robert L. Haig Award for Distinguished Public Service.  Justice Gary captivated the attendees after dinner with an empowering speech and call to action for the cause of justice. 

A Deeper Dive into Privilege Issues in Litigation

After a stellar Day 1, the bar was set high for Day 2.  And Day 2 did not disappoint.  First up, Jonathan Fellows, Esq. moderated panelists Hon. Melissa Crane of the Manhattan Commercial Division and Hon. Henry Pitman, retired U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York and JAMS Mediator, in a sophisticated discussion on privilege issues in commercial litigation.  Finishing off with a set of thought-provoking hypotheticals, this interactive panel gave attendees an inside look into what judges consider when grappling with privilege issues. 

A Case Study on the Use of Special Masters 

Not to be outdone, panelist Hon. Jerry Garguillo, Suffolk County Commercial Division Justice, discussed his use of Special Masters in the New York Opioid Litigation as a case study.  Moderated by the Hon. Elizabeth Emerson, retired from the Suffolk County Commercial Division, Justice Garguillo and fellow panelists Hon. Anthony Marano, retired Nassau County Supreme Court Justice, Harvey Besunder, Esq., John L. Juliano, Esq., and Thomas McNamara, Esq., enthralled attendees with a discussion about how a Special Master can assist in complex cases, the interplay of the New York Code of Rules and Regulations and CPLR provisions covering Special Masters, and the means and methods devised by Justice Garguillo’s Part to make manageable the patently unmanageable task of bringing the New York Opioid Litigation to a conclusion.

Final Thoughts

As is always the case, the ComFed Spring Meeting was a wonderful gathering of federal and state judges and members of the federal and commercial bar.  The programing was high-quality and thought-provoking, and the company was second to none.