The judges who rule over real estate: Judge Shirley Kornreich

Part III in TRD's overview of the New York property law bench

Judge Shirley Kornreich (Illustration by Dominic Bugatto)
Judge Shirley Kornreich (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.

In 2014, Gerald Rosengarten, the man who popularized the “leisure suit” in the 1970s, sued his Bowery Hotel co-owner Richard Born, the celebrity hotelier who claims he invented the “boutique hotel.”

In his $50 million suit, Rosengarten alleged that Born cut him out of deals to sell apartments at the hotel.

When the court ordered Born to provide email exchanges, his defense team reportedly turned over more than 500,000 pages of documents, many of them irrelevant to the case. In response to this, Justice Kornreich did not mince words. She called the defense “contumacious” (i.e., willfully disobedient) and said the “document dump” was “inexcusable.”

Herrick Feinstein’s Hannigan said Kornreich and her staff are very focused on “modern issues of electronic discovery.”

“Her part [of the Court] is very sophisticated, very much like a federal court in some ways,” he said, adding that in most state courtrooms, there simply isn’t enough time to take on deep and careful electronic tracking. “You have to be very prepared,” he said.

Kornreich, a graduate of New York University and its law school, was first elected to The Civil Court in 1994.

She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2002 and has served on the Commercial Division bench since 2009.

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In New York real estate circles, Kornreich is known for her handling of class-action lawsuits filed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

In late 2013 and early 2014, she ruled in favor of several landlords in class-action complaints filed by tenants seeking rent refunds. In her decision, Kornreich explained that suing as a group was problematic because not all apartments were impacted by utilities outages and other hurricane damage in the same way.

As for Kornreich’s reputation among attorneys, she is known for preparedness and for her quick dismissal of “contumacious” behavior.

“She takes no prisoners, and she takes no crap,” said Bailey, noting that she is “very smart.”

“If a lawyer is wasting time, she’ll make clear she’s not going to put up with that,” he said.

Fried Frank’s Mac Avoy has a similar take. “[She’s] very courteous and very respectful, [but] at the same time I have seen her sanction people for inappropriate conduct and it’s been awesome to watch,” she said.

Still, she gives everyone a fair shake, sources said. “I’ve seen her be persuaded by what a lawyer said at oral arguments,” Mac Avoy said.

While many of her positive traits are mentioned on the Robing Room, Kornreich is also singled out for a sharp tongue and a stern approach.

“Her intelligence is at odds with her flaws,” wrote one civil litigation attorney, who called Kornreich “irascible” and “short-tempered.”