The judges who rule over real estate: Judge Charles Ramos

Part II of TRD's dive into the legal side of real estate

Judge Charles Ramos (Illustration by Dominic Bugatto)
Judge Charles Ramos (Illustration by Dominic Bugatto)

From the April issue: This month, The Real Deal profiled six of the nine judges on the Supreme Court’s Commercial Division bench — focusing on those who have overseen some of the city’s biggest real estate cases in the last few years. This is the second web installment.

Of all the judges in the Commercial Division, Justice Ramos may be the most feared.

First elected to the Supreme Court in 1993, he has served on the court’s Commercial Division bench for 20 years. In that time, he has presided over innumerable real estate matters, with recent cases involving giant commercial landlords (like SL Green Realty) and major commercial brokerages (like Eastern Consolidated).

In 2014, Ramos lit up the tabloids when he ruled MSNBC host Donny Deutsch had stiffed Sotheby International Realty broker Edward Petrie out of a $1.2 million commission on the $30 million sale of his Hamptons home. In his decision, Ramos wryly referred to Deutch’s “dishonesty and greed” as “particularly unbecoming when exhibited by those blessed with great wealth.”

But Ramos seems to have a record of ticking off attorneys that is unparalleled in this division.

“He’s kind of a wild card,” said one attorney who would only speak on the condition of anonymity. “He’s emotional, he rules from the hip and he doesn’t read the papers,” the attorney said.

Ramos did not respond to requests for comment, but on the Robing Room users called out the judge for the same issues. “[He never bothered to read the materials, wasting YEARS of my life,” one user wrote.

Some see this portrayal as a complete misunderstanding of Ramos’ operating procedure.

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Herrick Feinstein real estate litigator Ray Hannigan said Ramos’ tendency to read over case papers during proceedings is not for lack of preparation.

“To be able to sit there in the middle of a hot argument to review key provisions, stop the court, take some time and try to understand and usually get it right, I think, is quite a skill,” he said. “I think it’s an advantage that he can refer to documents on the spot.”

Slotnick, a well-known white-collar defense lawyer, also dismissed the notion that Ramos comes unprepared, calling him “the real deal.” But he said he understands why some attorneys don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling about him.

“He can be a little tough if he thinks your argument is not serious,” Slotnick said.

Hannigan noted that Ramos is gifted at engaging in heated arguments.

“There was one time where we were three-quarters into an argument and I thought I was winning,” Hannigan recalled, “and the next thing you know Ramos started to skewer me, and it took quite the effort to get back on the winning side of the column.”

At least one defendant, though, has cited Ramos’ argumentativeness as reason to have him benched from a case. Former executives at insurance giant AIG filed to have him removed in 2013 when the New York State attorney general took the company to court over reinsurance deals alleged to be fraudulent. AIG accused Ramos of being “aggressive and argumentative” and claimed Ramos had formed his opinions based on hearings in a different case, indicating a bias against AIG.

That wasn’t the only time AIG tried to oust Ramos. In an unrelated suit, regarding sex abuse settlements paid out by the Horace Mann School, which AIG refused to reimburse, AIG once again sought recusal for Ramos — this time because he was an alumni of the famed prep academy.

“He’s the guy every attorney’s afraid of,” said another lawyer, too timid to share his name in print.