Before Apple was found guilty of colluding with publishing companies to raise the price of e-books, U.S. District Judge Denise Cote raised a few eyebrows when she issued a statement which seemed to indicate that she was already convinced of Apple's culpability.
In late May, about two weeks before trial, Cote said the following:
I believe that the government will be able to show at trial direct evidence that Apple knowingly participated in and facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books, and that the circumstantial evidence in this case, including the terms of the agreements, will confirm that.
Given that the case was not subject to a jury trial and that Cote and Cote alone would be deciding the case on its merits, some found her statement to be particularly puzzling.
After a three week trial in June, Cote did ultimately find Apple guilty of engaging in a price fixing conspiracy with book publishers.
The merits of Apple's case aside, Cote's pre-trial comments are especially interesting in light of a recent blog post from Philip Elmer-DeWitt of CNN Money.
Elmer-DeWitt highlights a site called The Robing Room, a website which allows lawyers to rate judges based on professional interactions. While Cote generally receives high marks for being a very thorough and intelligent arbiter of law, a number of reviews contain some revealing remarks.
For instance, one reviewer writes:
As several commenters have noted, this judge pre-determines which parties should win at the outset, and is blatantly enamored of big-name firms and gov't entities...
Another reviewer writes:
In a complex administrative law matter, Judge Cote exhibited many of the unfortunate qualities expressed by others here. It seemed clear that she had pre-judged the case and the parties before hearing the merits, and proceeded to rule accordingly without regard for the facts and law. Definitely seemed to value timeliness and procedural technicalities, whether based in the rules or her own sense of how parties should behave, above all else. She is smart and seems hardworking, and tended to ground her rulings on discretionary issues that are more difficult to appeal...
Even going back to reviews from 2009, the same issue seems to bubble up:
Judge Cote predetermines outcome of the case and consistently rules accordingly even in contradiction to her own orders.
Judge Cote has a bubbly style but it masks an inclination toward pre judging issues, including deciding early on deciding who the good guy is and who the bad guy is), and ruling accordingly, without sufficient analysis or consideration of the merits of the issue before her. She is a very smart woman and if the pre-disposition does not get in the way a good judge, but if it does, she can make some very bad (and consistently bad) rulings.
Does this mean that Cote's ruling was completely baseless?
Of course not.
The DOJ made a strong case and it seemed like the ruling could have gone either way. What's more, it's important to keep in mind that online reviews are typically subject to self-selection as most people only chime in whey they have something to complain about.
In any event, Apple plans to appeal the ruling and it remains to be seen the extent to which Apple will be subject to damages and, perhaps, other punitive measures.