Judge Randall Rader, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
Judge Randall Rader, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit (Diego M. Radzinschi / The National Law Journal)

SAN FRANCISCO — Federal Circuit Judge Randall Rader resigned from the court Friday, three weeks after stepping down as chief judge and apologizing for an overly friendly email to a prominent member of the bar.

Arguably the world’s most prominent voice on intellectual property law just one month ago, Rader will conclude his 23-year tenure at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit on June 30, according to a one-sentence announcement posted on the court’s website.

The news surprised lawyers who appear regularly before the court, but did not come as a complete shock given the tone of Rader’s May 23 farewell address as chief.

“His statement sounded a lot more like a valedictory than someone who was just stepping out of the role as chief judge,” said Gregory Castanias, the head of Jones Day’s Federal Circuit practice.

Rader has issued several precedential opinions since then. The June 30 retirement date may reflect “that he’s now evaluated what cases he has left to work on and how much time it’s going to take to get them out,” Castanias said. “It’s a bittersweet day for the Federal Circuit to see this happen.”

Rader wrote an open letter last month apologizing to his colleagues for “conduct that crossed lines,” in particular an email to Weil, Gotshal & Manges partner Edward Reines praising his skills and inviting him to share the assessment with others. The email, which also relayed another Federal Circuit judge’s take on Reines’ performance at a recent oral argument, could have created the appearance of partiality, Rader conceded.

The court took the extraordinary step of recusing Rader from two cases that had already been decided but were not yet final.

The same day he apologized, Rader announced his resignation as chief judge, though as some Federal Circuit watchers have pointed out, neither he nor the court have explicitly connected the two events.

Addressing the Federal Circuit Bar Association, Rader spoke enthusiastically of other pursuits, including teaching intellectual property courses at both U.S. and international law schools. But he didn’t sound as if he were planning to leave the court immediately.

“For me, this transition will enable me to return to my first love of sitting as a trial judge in various district courts,” Rader had said. “Indeed, I look forward to sitting as a district judge for a sizable volume of cases in the next few months.”

That won’t be possible once Rader surrenders his Article III status.

Rader did not participate in the court’s regular oral argument calendar earlier this month, and canceled several public speaking events over the last few weeks.

Contact the reporter at sgraham@alm.com.