The fraud trial of Sam Bankman-Fried has delved into complex topics like computer code, cryptocurrency, and corporate finance. Throughout the proceedings, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, known for his dry sense of humor, has occasionally lightened the atmosphere in the courtroom.
Judge Kaplan, a senior judge in Manhattan federal court, hasn’t hesitated to scold Bankman-Fried’s defense lawyers for repetitive questioning, once accusing them, in the absence of the jury, of attempting to set a record for the longest trial. This trial, where Bankman-Fried faces charges of embezzling billions from customers of his FTX cryptocurrency exchange, is not the first high-profile case presided over by the 78-year-old Bill Clinton appointee.
Earlier this year, Kaplan oversaw a civil trial that found Donald Trump liable for sexual abuse and defamation against writer E. Jean Carroll, ordering him to pay $5 million. In the previous year, he presided over a civil trial in which actor Kevin Spacey defeated a sexual abuse claim.
Despite his no-nonsense demeanor, Judge Kaplan, a Harvard Law School graduate from Staten Island, has injected humor into the trial proceedings. When a prospective juror expressed confusion about cryptocurrency, Kaplan quipped that they had company in the courtroom. On another occasion, he mentioned his slight hearing loss, jesting, “You’re not the only one here with slight hearing loss, at my age.”
After viewing an FTX TV ad featuring Tom Brady, Kaplan humorously inquired, “Just to make sure we’re all complete, who is Tom Brady?”
While the jury determines Bankman-Fried’s guilt or innocence, Kaplan holds sway over the legal arguments and lines of questioning lawyers can pursue. If convicted, he would also impose Bankman-Fried’s sentence.
Throughout the trial’s early days, Kaplan encouraged defense lawyers to expedite their questioning when he deemed it repetitive. He reminded them that the trial’s goal was not to set a record for its duration.
Before the trial commenced, Kaplan made pivotal rulings against the defense, including the exclusion of certain expert witnesses and restrictions on their trial arguments. One of the most significant decisions was revoking Bankman-Fried’s bail on August 11, following findings that he likely tampered with witnesses. This included sharing his former colleague and ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison’s private writings with a reporter.