AGE: 44  

Even though Judge Lucy Koh is new to the bench, the powerhouse litigators who recently tried Apple Inc.’s suit against Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. before her knew that she already had a fierce reputation. During the smartphone and tablet patent infringement case, they found out just how fierce she could be.

Koh, who sits in San Jose, has often heard complex patent cases since she joined the bench in June 2010, and lawyers know her for immediately taking charge and working quickly through complex matters. One lawyer who has appeared before her says that the judge is known for holding “lawyers’ feet to the fire.” That was certainly true in Apple v. Samsung, which was assigned to Koh in April 2011. She made it obvious that she wasn’t intimidated by the big names in her courtroom.

At a hearing this past August, Samsung counsel John Quinn of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan clearly angered Koh when he asked her to reconsider a decision about the evidence that his client could enter. “Don’t make me sanction you,” the judge snapped. Two weeks later, during the trial, it was Apple counsel William Lee of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr who drew Koh’s ire for submitting a long list of additional witnesses whom his client wanted to call. “Unless you’re smoking crack, you know these witnesses are not going to be called,” Koh sharply told him. (Lee and Quinn declined to comment for this article.) At another point during the trial, Koh said, “I don’t trust what any lawyer tells me in this courtroom.”

A jury returned a $1.05 billion verdict for Apple on August 24. (If upheld, it would be the biggest patent verdict in history). The attorneys in the case haven’t heard the last of Koh, however. She’s scheduled to hear Apple’s request for a permanent injunction against Samsung in December, and in March she’ll begin trial in a second suit between the two companies.

Koh, who is of Korean descent, is the first Asian American district court judge in the Northern District of California. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1993, she went to work in Washington, D.C., first for the Senate Judiciary Committee and then for the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1997 she moved west to become an assistant in the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, leaving after three years to become a senior associate at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. In 2002 she became a partner in McDermott Will & Emery’s Silicon Valley office, where her workload focused on representing technology companies in patent matters. Then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated her to be a judge for the Superior Court of California for Santa Clara County, where she served from 2008 to 2010.

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