AGE: 51

Since he joined the Manhattan federal bench in July 2011, Paul Engelmayer’s docket has been bursting with typical New York City cases: lots of securities and white-collar crime, a touch of intellectual property, and a dash of civil rights. In perhaps his most significant decision, Engelmayer ruled the past July in favor of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which opposes a planned mosque and Islamic center near the World Trade Center. The initiative sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for refusing to post its advertisements — which depicted radical Muslims as savages — on the exteriors of New York City buses. Engelmayer said that while the MTA’s policy of prohibiting demeaning ads was well intentioned, the authority had violated the initiative’s right to free speech.

Engelmayer has issued other “only in New York” rulings. In one controversial October 2011 decision, he declared that New York bus drivers had to assist city police in transporting Occupy Wall Street protestors who were arrested at the Brooklyn Bridge. He also decided that the Second Avenue Deli could continue to sell its Instant Heart Attack Sandwich, even though a national restaurant chain had trademarked the name.

Nine high-profile attorneys who have either appeared before Engelmayer or worked alongside him during his career used comments like “brilliant,” “efficient,” and possessed of a “strong desire to enforce the law” when talking to us about the judge. One of these attorneys adds, “I would be amazed if he is not on a short list of people who could be elevated to the Second Circuit.”

Engelmayer worked as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal before graduating from Harvard Law School in 1987. He clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and then served as an assistant in the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. In 1994 he joined the office of then – U.S. Solicitor General Drew Days. During his time as assistant SG, Engelmayer argued four cases before the Supreme Court and won three, including Yamaha v. Calhoun, which involved a 12-year-old girl killed in a Jet Ski collision. The court considered whether persons not employed in maritime jobs could win tort remedies from the government for fatalities in U.S. waters.

In 1996 Engelmayer returned to the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office to run the Major Crimes Unit. In his most high-profile case, he successfully prosecuted Autumn Jackson, who threatened actor Bill Cosby with the claim that she was his illegitimate daughter and attempted to extort $40 million from him. From 2000 to 2011, Engelmayer was a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, where he handled white-collar criminal, government, and securities litigation.

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