In his time on the bench, Victor Marrero has presided over a dizzying mix of cases debated as much over kitchen tables as they are in the halls of power. The widespread scandal and heartbreak of Bernard Madoff’s financial fraud; national security; immigration; free speech; privacy; and even alleged trademark infringement involving red-soled high heels—those issues and many more have had a place on Marrero’s docket ever since he assumed office as a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1999.
Even the seemingly innocuous one about the heels proved pointy. “That generated a lot of controversy, a lot of division and conflict on both sides of the dispute,” Marrero says of the trademark infringement suit, in which the iconic fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent SA sued the brand Christian Louboutin SA over Louboutin’s allegations that Yves Saint Laurent had copied its signature red soles.
The case was ultimately dismissed in 2012, but not before Marrero had the chance to write an appropriately colorful opinion: "Louboutin's claim would cast a red cloud over the whole industry, cramping what other designers could do while allowing Louboutin to paint with a full palette,” he said.
Marrero, who was appointed to judgeship by former President Bill Clinton, and who became a Senior Judge for the district in 2010, has a circuitous Sidley connection: He began his career in law in 1982 as a partner of Tufo & Zuccotti, which later merged with Brown & Wood in 1985. It was then that he incidentally met his wife, Veronica White, now with Bloomberg L.P., who worked from 1985 through 1987 as a lawyer at Sidley & Austin and then Brown & Wood before the two firms merged in 2001.
“I always like to kid that we anticipated the Sidley-Brown & Wood merger,” joked Marrero, whose law practice centered on real estate, land use, and environmental law. He headed those practice group areas at Brown & Wood from 1991 to 1993. Marrero was then appointed by Clinton as Ambassador, United States Representative on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, and later as Ambassador, Permanent Representative of the United States to the Organization of American States.
Marrero’s career on the bench is perhaps best known for his rulings regarding the amended USA Patriot Act. In 2007, he struck down part of the Act, ruling that FBI investigators eventually must get a court's approval when ordering Internet providers and phone companies by means of national security letters to turn over records without telling customers.
“The portion of the Patriot Act I was involved in developed after the September 11th attacks,” Marrero recalls. Congress had been seeking ways to make it easier for law enforcement to access information that would lead to the capture of terrorists. In that pursuit, the FBI was given authority to issue security letters to communication companies.
“Companies receiving the letters were mandated to comply and provide information about their customers without discussing the secret request first with anybody, at any time, and in perpetuity,” Marrero said. “So that naturally raised a lot of First Amendment and Fourth Amendment concerns.”
Marrero ruled that complying with the letters had a chilling effect on speech and was unreasonable insofar as it sought to give the government authority to search records of the communications companies, or to demand business records about individuals who did not know that the information was being provided about them. In the aftermath of the ruling, Congress amended the law to deal with some of the concerns that Marrero had shed light on in his opinion.
More recently, in March 2017, in another high-profile case, Marrero rejected PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP’s quest to sharply restrict how the bankruptcy plan administrator for former New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine’s defunct brokerage MF Global Holdings Ltd could pursue its $3 billion malpractice case against the auditor.
“The parties ultimately settled after being on trial for two weeks but that was an interesting, very complex case in which the stakes were huge,” said Marrero.
When he is not presiding over cases involving fashion designers, former senators and Ponzi schemes, Marrero, a longtime New Yorker by way of San Juan, Puerto Rico, likes to read and to watch classic movies with White in their Upper West Side home in Manhattan. The two also enjoy taking long strolls in Central Park, a public open place with special meaning to them both because he was among the original board members of the Central Park Conservancy and she served as New York City Commissioner of Parks and Recreation toward the end of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.
“I used to play sports—baseball, swimming, sailing and tennis—when I was younger. Nowadays, it’s basically whatever forms of exercise one can get without breaking bones,” Marrero joked.
Published March 2018
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