In Silicon Valley, Lucy Koh Is The Law

By Kristen V. Brown
San Francisco Chronicle.

If there is one thing Lucy Koh will never live down, it’s that time she asked a lawyer in her court if he was smoking crack.

It was 2012 and she was presiding over the first U.S. suit in the multipart smartphone patent war between Apple and Samsung.

Apple wanted to squeeze in more than 20 new witnesses during the company’s last four hours of testimony.

Samsung filed 75 pages of objections. Koh would have to rule on each objection to a long list of witnesses who probably would not even make it to the stand.

Koh likes her cases to move along quickly. Apple’s attorney appeared to be wasting the court’s time.

“Unless you’re smoking crack, you know these witnesses aren’t going to be called when you have less than four hours,” she said.

“Your honor,” the attorney replied. “I’m not smoking crack.”

In a closely watched case that could change the global smartphone business, Koh’s comment became the trial’s most memorable moment.

In the four years since President Obama appointed her to a seat on the U.S. District Court in San Jose, Koh has presided over some of the tech industry’s highest-profile cases.

Though federal court cases are typically randomly assigned, fortuity and her spot in Silicon Valley have gained her more influence over tech than any other judge in the U.S.

In the ongoing smartphone battle, Koh has so far kept Samsung products on the shelves despite two jury verdicts finding the Korean company copied iPhone features and pressure from Apple for a wide-reaching sales ban.

In another landmark case alleging companies including Google and Apple conspired to not poach each other’s workers in order to reduce competition and hold down wages, Koh persuaded the parties to agree to settlement (although on Friday she rejected the $324.5 million deal after raising concern it was not enough for the plaintiffs).

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