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NEW YORK — After the first day of trial pitting Rosie O’Donnell against her ex-publishers over her defunct magazine, O’Donnell held a press conference on the sidewalk in front of 60 Centre St. When asked how she thought her case was going, she said, “There’s a very wise man in there who’s the judge.” “He’ll decide,” O’Donnell said, “and I’ll listen to him.” The judge is state Supreme Court Justice Ira Gammerman, as familiar a name to New York trial lawyers as the former talk show host is to the rest of the world. A 24-year veteran of the bench and a commercial division judge since its inception in 1993, Justice Gammerman not only draws instant recognition among lawyers but kudos for his intelligence, productivity and humor. “He’s one of our ablest judges,” said Mark Zauderer, a partner at Piper Rudnick, and former chair of the New York State Bar Association’s commercial and federal litigation section. “He’s extremely smart, gets his hands around a case very quickly, recalls factual matters with great accuracy during trial and is able to make a definitive decision without delay.” “A lot of people think he’s the best trial judge in the state,” said another lawyer, who asked not to be identified. In a phone interview last week, Justice Gammerman likened his work to “doing very complicated crossword puzzles.” He said the variety and challenge of making decisions was the aspect of his job he found most appealing, but added that he also enjoyed watching good lawyers work. “It’s like listening to a skilled musician,” he said. The judge is a famous multi-tasker and prodigiously productive. He supplements an already hefty commercial caseload with personal injury cases, serves on various court-related committees and is a frequent speaker in continuing legal education programs. Most judges regard conducting a trial to be a full day’s work, but not Justice Gammerman. After the close of the first day of the O’Donnell trial last week, he held conferences from 4 to 6 p.m., as is typically his practice. Justice Gammerman is also well known for screening cases and reading through motions on other matters while presiding over a long jury trial. In conference, he will mow through two dozen cases, dictating decisions into the record or previewing his rulings. He requires lawyers to preview their legal positions by letter before filing any motions and will call attorneys into court for argument within a day or two of receiving the letter. On the flip side, Justice Gammerman is famously impatient, a trait that can leave lawyers smarting. In fact, when asked what he found most irritating about his job, the judge said, “lawyers asking questions that are unnecessarily repetitive, going over the same point again and again.” “Once the point is made, move on!” he said. The judge was true to his reputation in the first few days of the O’Donnell trial, which has been on since Thursday and is expected to take two weeks. The dispute features dueling $100 million lawsuits over the demise of Rosie, the magazine O’Donnell and Gruner + Jahr USA Publishing put out as a joint venture from May 2001 to December 2002. O’Donnell is represented by a Debevoise & Plimpton team headed by former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White. Gruner + Jahr is represented by the New York firm Golenbock, Eiseman, Assor, Bell & Peskoe. Throughout each long day of the bench trial, the judge alternated between leaning back in his chair, his head turned toward the witness giving testimony, scribbling notes and squinting at his laptop. His attention rarely seemed to waver; in fact, he was a lively presence during the questioning of the witnesses Gruner + Jahr has put on so far. Justice Gammerman sustained and overruled objections before they were made, chalking his haste up to “force of habit.” Several times, he took over examining the witnesses, rephrasing objectionable or long-winded questions and asking — and sometimes answering — them himself. At one point during Monday’s testimony by former Rosie magazine editor Susan Toefler, after answering a question for the witness, the judge said, “I’ll answer that.” Justice Gammerman’s impatience has occasionally gotten him in trouble. The Appellate Division, First Department, once took a case from him after finding he had been too hasty in ordering the parties to trial in six days although both sides wanted to continue discovery for another five weeks. Although practitioners said they appreciate his efficiency, they also say he can be too quick to form an opinion on a case, with unfortunate consequences for the disfavored party. “It’s sound-bite justice; you have 30 seconds to get your argument out on complex motions,” said one lawyer in response to an anonymous 1995 New York Law Journal survey collecting opinions on the commercial division. At the Rosie magazine trial, the judge appeared unfazed to have a celebrity sitting in his courtroom, describing the dispute as “just another case.” It was not the first time he has presided over a case involving a celebrity. In 1996, Justice Gammerman moderated a dispute between Random House and actress Joan Collins over a manuscript the publisher described as “unpublishable.” He was also on the bench last year for Woody Allen’s suit against his former producer, Jean Doumanian. That dispute gave Justice Gammerman the chance to display an impressive familiarity with the film director’s oeuvre, and even at one point to tell Allen, who was rambling on in response to a question, to “stop talking.” “Stop talking?” Allen asked somewhat incredulously. “I’m the director here,” Justice Gammerman retorted. Justice Gammerman, a graduate of Columbia Law School, was in private practice before his appointment to the bench in 1979. The judge, who is now 76, hits mandatory retirement age at the end of the year. But, he said, he has no plans to wind down his caseload. Instead, he will remain on the bench as a judicial hearing officer, keeping both his courtroom and his staff. The only difference, he said, is that the lawyers will have to stipulate to his jurisdiction over their cases. No doubt many will do so. Tamara Loomis is a reporter with The New York Law Journal , a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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