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The case of U.S. v. Microsoft has landed on the docket of a federal judge who has a reputation for being thorough, methodical, and always well-prepared. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, 58, was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 1997 after serving 13 years as a D.C. Superior Court judge. Since then, she has gotten her share of the high-profile and often complex federal cases that are common in this District Court, but Microsoft will be by far the most significant of her tenure. She’ll need every bit of her work ethic in shepherding the antitrust case through its second go-round in federal trial court. “She is extremely dedicated and obsessively prepared, almost a workaholic,” says one D.C. litigator who has appeared before her. “She can embrace a very new subject [of litigation] and master it quickly. Being a federal judge was a big change for her, since being a Superior Court judge doesn’t require an in-depth knowledge of law.” Kollar-Kotelly’s diligence and skill in parsing a very complex case were tested in the 1999 case of John H. McBryde v. Committee to Review Circuit Council Conduct and Disability Orders, in which McBryde, a U.S. district judge in the Northern District of Texas, challenged on a wide variety of constitutional and other grounds the discipline meted out to him by the Judicial Council of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. McBryde’s “intemperance and abusiveness” to lawyers got him suspended from hearing new cases for a year. In a 79-page opinion, Kollar-Kotelly rejected nearly all of McBryde’s attacks on the procedures that the 5th Circuit used under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980, several times ruling on issues of first impression. She did, however, find that McBryde’s First Amendment rights had been trampled by a gag order issued under a confidentiality provision of the 1980 act. McBryde’s appeal has been argued before the D.C. Circuit but has not yet been decided. In her opinion, which dealt with a judge gone astray, Kollar-Kotelly addressed the role and responsibilities of federal judges. “The integrity of the [judicial] institution, with respect to both public trust and freedom from outside influence, can be preserved only if judges shoulder the difficult responsibility of monitoring their own conduct,” she wrote. In another passage of the opinion, Kollar-Kotelly went out of her way to discuss the importance of civility in the courtroom. “The question of civility and its regrettable decline among members of this profession has emerged as a major topic of concern among lawyers, judges, and legal scholars. … If incivility among lawyers threatens to bring the entire legal profession into disrepute, then a lack of civility in the judiciary promises to undermine profoundly American society’s respect for the rule of law and its faith in the possibility of achieving just results,” she wrote. On the bench, Kollar-Kotelly proceeds calmly and efficiently, moving her docket along without showing rudeness or impatience with lawyers. Philip Musolino of D.C.’s Musolino & Dessel, who represented several hundred plaintiffs in a case against the United States and the nations of Sudan and Afghanistan, says the judge told lawyers in the case to “go and be generous to yourself” in setting deadlines, “rather than repeatedly asking for extensions of time.” Moreover, says Musolino, Kollar-Kotelly has an absolute rule that lawyers must discuss discovery wrangles first among themselves before bringing them to the bench with a motion. Many discovery matters, Kollar-Kotelly believes, can and should be solved with a telephone call among counsel, not by wasting a judge’s time with “he-said-she-said” arguments. Kollar-Kotelly is a stickler for promptness — “9:30 means 9:30, not 9:31,” says one litigator — and she approaches her role as a judge with the utmost seriousness. “She cuts right through lawyers’ garbage to get to the essentials,” says Stuart Newberger of D.C.’s Crowell & Moring. “She runs a tight ship.” Kollar-Kotelly is seen by many lawyers as a very private person who shuns the limelight. Since 1998, the District Court has maintained a Web site on which judges can voluntarily post their most significant opinions, and she is one of the few who has not chosen to post any. The only exception was a decision in the D.C. voting rights case last year, in which she helped form the majority opinion of a divided three-judge panel. Kollar-Kotelly is not afraid to register disagreement — politely, of course — with appeals courts when she thinks they have missed a key point. Humane Society of the United States v. Glickman is a good example. In that case, the Humane Society sued the Agriculture Department to try to prevent a scheduled roundup and slaughter of Canada geese by the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The group contended that this action would violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which protects the geese. The key question was whether the treaty act applied to federal officials, and for a variety of convoluted policy and statutory reasons, Kollar-Kotelly held in July 1999 that it did, siding with the Humane Society. Kollar-Kotelly, however, still had to deal with two very recent decisions from the 8th and 11th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals that went precisely the other way on the issue. Her approach was straightforward: “[W]ith all due respect to both courts, this Court is not persuaded. … Ultimately, what is most unsatisfying about the [two other] decisions is how they employ, or fail to employ, certain canons of statutory interpretation.” Kollar-Kotelly has deep roots in the Washington area. Although she was born in New York, she got both her undergraduate degree (in English literature) and her law degree from Catholic University of America. She clerked for a D.C. Court of Appeals judge, then worked for three years in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department before becoming chief legal counsel for St. Elizabeths Hospital, an institution for the mentally ill. After 12 years there, Kollar-Kotelly ascended to the Superior Court bench. Kollar-Kotelly is married to John Kotelly, a litigation partner at D.C.’s Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky. The couple have no children: “The law is their life, and it shows,” says a D.C. litigator.
PROFILE: Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Appointed: 1997 by President Bill Clinton Born: April 17, 1943 Law school: Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, 1968 Previous nonjudicial positions: chief legal counsel, St. Elizabeths Hospital, 1972-84; attorney, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 1969-72 Previous judicial position: D.C. Superior Court Judge, 1984-97

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