Jury Could Decide Madoff Trustee Suit Against Mets Owners

Aug 22 2011 | 2:05pm ET

A $1 billion lawsuit lodged against the owners of the New York Mets baseball team by the trustee for the victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme could be settled in a public trial by a jury.

During a two-hour hearing on Friday, Federal District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who removed the case from bankruptcy court in July, promised a ruling by the end of September on whether the case should go to a public trial. Rakoff also determined that such a trial, if it did take place, would probably last two weeks and happen next March, reports the New York Times. The judge also ordered both sides to begin supplying each other with additional material concerning the team owners’ investments with Madoff.

The trustee, Irving Picard, accuses the Mets’ owners—Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz—of having ignored red flags about Madoff’s business while enriching themselves through their investments in his Ponzi scheme. Observers think Rakoff may be trying to encourage the two sides to reach a settlement to their year-long dispute, something former New York governor Mario Cuomo has also been trying to achieve, working as a court-appointed mediator.

Most of Friday’s hearing centered on the trustee’s assertion that Wilpon and Katz were “willfully blind” to the warning signs about Madoff’s operations. The lawyer for the team’s owners argued Picard did not have the evidence to support the allegation.

Rakoff has a number of options, including sending the full case to trial, which would leave it up to a jury to decide how much money is awarded.

According to the Times, Rakoff occasionally lightened the mood in the courtroom, at one point in the proceedings thanking both sides for giving him such voluminous briefs to read: “Otherwise,” he said, “I would have had to watch a Mets game, which would have been a very painful process.”

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