The New Jersey judge presiding over the lawsuit that accuses Eli Manning of memorabilia fraud is a longtime Giants fan who owns two personal seat licenses at MetLife Stadium, according to court records.
The attorneys for the memorabilia collectors who brought the suit filed a motion in May 2015 to ask Superior Court Judge James J. DeLuca to step away from the case because he is a Giants fan who owns two personal seat licenses. DeLuca declined to recuse himself and insisted he will remain impartial, according to court documents.
The judge wrote that he has taken “an oath to provide each of the litigants with a level playing field. The courtroom is not a football field or a stadium where one attends games for entertainment. Rather, it is the place where the law is applied to the facts and evidence presented; and, after due deliberation and consideration, determinations are made.”
A personal seat license (PSL) gives the buyer control over a seat and the right to buy season tickets for games. The Giants sold personal seat licenses beginning in 2008 to help fund the construction of the new Meadowlands stadium, charging from $1,000 to $20,000 per seat.
The filings were among court papers that were reviewed by Newsday in Bergen County Superior Court in Hackensack, New Jersey. A trial in the nearly 4-year-old case, slated to begin Sept. 25, was delayed. The judge’s June 9 order did not state a reason for the delay or set a new date.
The lawsuit was filed in January 2014 by sports memorabilia entrepreneur Eric Inselberg. It has been amended to include memorabilia collectors Michael Jakab and Sean Godown.
The suit alleges that Manning and equipment manager Joe Skiba passed off non-game-used helmets and jerseys to be marketed and sold as game-worn merchandise by sports memorabilia company Steiner Sports, which also is named as a defendant. Other defendants include Giants co-owner John Mara, general counsel William Heller and assistant equipment manager Ed Skiba.
Attorneys for the memorabilia collectors wrote, “There are a variety of ways in which the subject of this civil action could impact the price or demand for New York Giants tickets, causing the PSLs to depreciate in value, be burdened by higher costs, or both.”
Attorneys for the Giants responded by asking the judge to stay on this case, calling his history as a Giants fan and PSL owner irrelevant. “How a lifelong sports fan instantly reacts to a call on the field simply has no relevance to how a judge . . . decides the issues presented in a lawsuit.”
DeLuca took over the case in May 2015. During a hearing with attorneys for both litigants, he revealed he was a fan of the team and had purchased two PSLs at MetLife Stadium.
According to a transcript of the hearing included in the filings, the judge said, “I purchased the PSLs. They’re in my name. My son pays for the tickets. I go to one or two games a year and I only go to the 1 o’clock games. I have also followed the Giants since the late 1950s, early 1960s.”
In the judge’s decision, filed June 17, 2015, DeLuca added, “I pay for the tickets for the games that I actually attend.”
DeLuca did not return a message from Newsday seeking comment.
Experts said the judge is within his rights to stay on the case.
Anthony Sabino, a Mineola trial attorney who teaches law at St. John’s University, said DeLuca might have been better served to “take the path of least resistance” and step away simply to avoid the appearance of impropriety.
“I would have preferred the judge to recuse himself, but it’s his personal choice,” Sabino said. “There’s nothing illegal, immoral or wrong in him deciding not to recuse himself in this particular situation.”
Marc Edelman, who teaches sports law at Baruch College, said the judge was within his rights to not recuse himself because a personal seat license doesn’t give him direct ownership in the Giants.
“If we were to find out that he is a huge Eli Manning fan and supporter, with posters on his office wall and having made comments about him, that would be different,” Edelman said.
Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane University, said, “There are likely many judges in the New York, New Jersey area who are fans, one way or the other. There’s no requirement that a judge must be completely free of any interests.”
“There are a variety of ways in which the subject of this civil action could impact the price or demand for New York Giants tickets, causing the PSLs to depreciate in value, be burdened by higher costs, or both.”
— Attorneys for the memorabilia collectors
“How a lifelong sports fan instantly reacts to a call on the field simply has no relevance to how a judge . . . decides the issues presented in a lawsuit.”
— Attorney for the Giants