AGE: 48

In her 20 years as a litigator at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Katherine Forrest made a name for herself arguing intellectual property cases for major entertainment companies. But Forrest’s biggest case since joining the Manhattan federal bench in October 2011 has been on an altogether different matter: a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 that gives the president the power to detain suspected terrorists indefinitely without trial.

A group of plaintiffs led by Pulitzer Prize – winning journalist Chris Hedges filed suit against the law in January 2012, claiming that they themselves could be at risk for detention simply by communicating with suspected terrorists. Forrest agreed, and on September 12 issued a permanent injunction blocking enforcement of the detention provision. She wrote that the government had not made an adequate case for its necessity. She also noted that one of the standards for injunctive relief had been met, since “imprisonment without trial and for an indefinite period certainly constitutes irreparable harm.” (The government immediately announced an emergency appeal to the Second Circuit.)

While Forrest gained attention for her NDAA ruling, lawyers who have appeared before her say that she’s the intellectual property expert to watch in the Southern District of New York. She has heard or is hearing disputes between software developer DataTern Inc. and SAP AG; between legal publisher John Wiley & Sons Inc. and users of BitTorrent, the peer-to-peer file sharing service; and between nearly identically named New York group messaging start-ups Groupme, Inc. (recently acquired by Skype Inc.) and Groupie LLC.

One attorney calls Forrest the most impressive judge of his experience. “She’s take-charge, and she moves cases forward,” this litigator says. (He and the other lawyers who spoke to us about Forrest asked to remain anonymous.) Another Manhattan litigator who has appeared before Forrest says, “She had incredible command of the material.”

Forrest joined Cravath after graduating from New York University School of Law in 1990. She made partner in 1998, handling commercial, antitrust, copyright, and digital media litigation. She won a favorable ruling for Arista Records LLC and other record companies in their copyright infringement suit against Lime Group LLC in 2010. She left Cravath in 2010 to become a deputy assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice’s antitrust division, where she oversaw litigation planning for criminal and civil enforcement.

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