Katherine B. Forrest joined a small circle of ex-jurists when she left the bench and returned to private practice at Cravath Swaine & Moore.
In rejoining her former firm following her tenure at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Forrest became one of a few female federal judges to practice law after stepping down or retiring from the bench. A number of female judges sit on the federal bench, but most of those over 65 are on senior status where they draw a judge’s salary and regularly preside over trials.
Although some refer to it as semi-retirement, senior status judges regularly get tapped for high-profile cases. Veteran federal district judge Kimba Wood, for example, shifted to senior status in 2009 and a year later she presided over the prosecution of 10 Russian spies living locally and masquerading as Americans. They pleaded guilty.
More recently, Wood presided over another major case—that of ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. The Cohen case also saw her cross paths with another former federal judge, Barbara S. Jones, who left her judgeship for private law practice five years ago. Wood named Jones as the special master charged with sorting through Cohen communications that had been seized by federal law enforcement.
The Cohen matter wasn’t the first high-profile matter Jones has handled recently. Jones, who works at the Bracewell law firm, was named to a Fox News workplace council after the company shelled out about $50 million in costs connected to recent sexual harassment and discrimination cases.
Unlike some of her counterparts who have left or retired from the bench to return to private practice, Jones had never practiced law before stepping down from her judgeship. Jones, who is 71 this year, worked as a federal prosecutor before becoming a judge in 1995.
Ready for Something New
Jones declined comment on her current legal role, but noted when she left the bench in 2013 that she was “ready to try something new.”
That’s a common refrain for female judges, including Shira A. Scheindlin, who retired as a U.S. federal district judge, and practices at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan.
“It’s a choice,” said Scheindlin, 71, who handled a number of controversial cases, the best known of which was her ruling against the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy in 2013 on grounds it was carried out in a way that violated the rights of minorities. She has been active in encouraging a broader role for women lawyers in the courtroom.
When she stepped down in 2016, she laid out a role for herself as a mediator, arbitrator, and in public interest work—and she has stuck to the script.
“After 27 years, I was ready for something new,” she said in a phone interview.
At Stroock, she is also leading a legal practice aimed at businesses and other groups facing sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, including conducting internal investigations.
Another former federal district judge, Faith S. Hochberg, left the judiciary three years ago and became a mediator and arbitrator, both in domestic and international cases.
“I’m not 10 feet higher and 30 feet away like I was as a judge,” Hochberg, 68, said. “But I feel like I’m helping to set some things right. Dockets are strained. We need people who can resolve cases. That’s what I like to do.”
She is involved in complex insurance, finance and patent cases, among other subjects, but noted that little comes to public notice because settling private disputes is confidential – unless there is a court appeal.
Private lawyering can have its downsides, though, Hochberg conceded. She recently had a lawyer yell at her involving an issue in an arbitration.
“That’s something that doesn’t happen as a judge,” she noted.
Forrest, who cited “personal reasons” for leaving the bench after seven years and declined to comment further, will be looking at the law from the corporate client viewpoint. Forrest, who also has worked as a federal antitrust lawyer, said in announcing her return to Cravath that she “will have the opportunity to continue making a difference in the courtroom alongside a tremendous team.”
Previously, she had worked as a litigator in the areas of antitrust, intellectual property, digital media, and general commercial litigation. She appears likely to follow a similar route in her new incarnation at Cravath, but she is not unfamiliar with controversial cases. While a judge, she presided over the case of Ross Ulbricht, the mastermind behind the illegal online marketplace called Silk Road, and sentenced him to life in prison.
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