The judges who rule real estate: Judge Saliann Scarpulla

The sixth and final part of TRD's look into the real estate bench

Judge Saliann Scarpulla (Illustration by Dominic Bugatto)
Judge Saliann Scarpulla (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 sixth and final web installment.

She’s only served in the Commercial Division for two years, but Justice Scarpulla is short on neither experience nor reputation.

Scarpulla — a former private practice litigator and senior counsel at the FDIC —was first elected to The Civil Court in 2001. In 2009, she was made an “acting” Supreme Court Justice, and she was elected in 2012. In 2014, she was assigned to the Commercial Division.

Since Joining The Supreme Court, Scarpulla has had the last word on several notable cases.

While still a rookie Supreme Court judge in 2010, she came down against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, ruling that the agency had acted illegally when it laid off more than 200 workers and closed customer-assistance booths without holding required public hearings. She ruled that they had to reopen the booths and staff them.

A few years later, in 2013, Scarpulla sided with an Upper West Side resident over a landlord in another J-51 tax case. The resident was later awarded close to $900,000 in rent overcharges by another judge in what was one of the largest, if not the largest, paybacks to a single tenant in a rent-stabilization case.

The following year, meanwhile, Scarpulla sided with Bank of America when AIG was looking to delay (and increase) the bank’s $8.5 billion settlement to investors who had bought Countrywide-issued mortgage-backed securities. (AIG was one of over 20 institutional investors that lost its shirt on the deal.)

And Scarpulla is known for keeping cases on the fast track.

“She really runs a tight ship with regards to keeping people on a strict discovery schedule,” said Pappas. “Defendants sometimes want to delay, delay, delay … she has an eye on making sure that the case is moving forward and progressing.”

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Olshan Frome’s Marks-Esterman — who recalled a five-year-old case that was resolved expeditiously once it landed in Scarpulla’s courtroom — agreed.

“[She has] a desire to push for a resolution, to cut right to the chase,” she said.

Scarpulla has one of the highest ratings of any of the Commercial Division judges on the Robing Room, with a 6.2 out of 10 average ranking.

One commenter praised her ability to rule “swiftly.” Others said that she’s “not a pushover, and not a monster” and is “truly a rising star.” Dissenting opinions of Scarpulla are far less detailed, but “rude” and “dense” are recurring themes.

Like some other judges in the division, Scarpulla is known for a direct, tell-it-like-it-is style.

“There’s not a chance in hell I would issue that [temporary restraining order],” Scarpulla once told lawyers for the Corcoran Group, who sought to bar former Soho manager Gene Martinez from working for his new firm, Compass, after he was poached by the competing brokerage.

“Corcoran, the biggest real estate broker in the state of New York, is coming to me and saying that ‘we need protection from this new start-up company?’” Scarpulla said in court.

Defense attorney Slotnick, who was not involved in the Corcoran-Compass case, said Scarpulla does not hold back.

“If she hears an argument that is not a legitimate one, she’ll tell you,” he said.