Who doesn't like sassy judges? Last year, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said the city's attempt to stop Marc Ecko's graffiti party was a "flagrant violation of the First Amendment". (He said that if the graffiti party were banned because it might incite graffiti, what about street performances of Hamlet or Oedipus Rex?) Now he has ruled that a Picasso worth tens of millions can be sold at Christie's tonight.

Julius H. Schoeps claims his ancestor, Berlin banker Paul von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, was forced to sell "Portrait de Angel Fernandez de Soto" due to Nazi intimidation. Schoeps had filed a lawsuit on Friday and a restraining order was put on the work's sale. Yesterday, Rakoff lifted the ban and allowed to sale to move forward. From the NY Times:

While expressing skepticism about Mr. Schoeps’s motivation in claiming the painting, Judge Rakoff dismissed the suit on a technicality, saying that federal law dealing with Holocaust restitution did not apply in this case. The judge said that Mr. Schoeps could pursue the case in State Court, which traditionally decides private disputes over property ownership.

“I know that no one in the art world is just interested in money or in buying and selling paintings for profit,” Judge Rakoff said sarcastically, before his ruling. “They’re guided by their belief in truth and beauty. But nevertheless, one might suspect that this is just a fight about money.”

Heh! Schoeps is working on filing a suit in State Court, but Christie's questioned why Schoeps waited so long for file a claim of ownership.

The painting, from Picasso's Blue Period, is the centerpiece of Christie's Impressionist & Modern Art sale tonight. Its estimate is $40-60 million (Andrew Lloyd Webber bought it for his charitable foundation 11 years ago at the cost of $29 million). Given the successful auction at Sotheby's last night, hopes are probably high. And the last time a big Picasso was auctioned, it went for $95 million.