Company News

Judge Refuses to Step Aside

Battle With I.B.M. Persists

By Ronald Sullivan
The New York Times

August 12, 1994

For the fourth time in a bitter legal feud that has simmered for more than four decades, Federal District Judge David N. Edelstein in Manhattan has rejected a demand by I.B.M. to remove himself from an old antitrust case against the company on the ground that he is hopelessly biased against it.

Instead of trying to force him off the case, Judge Edelstein said the International Business Machines Corporation should be pleased with his rulings because all of them, he said, favored the company.

Scott Brooks, an I.B.M. spokesman, declined any comment. But the rejection did not generate any pleasure at the company, which had complained that the 84-year-old judge has legally skewered them for decades and now appears as determined as ever to keep his judicial hold over a case that is now 42 years old and has been relatively inactive for 24 years.

The case involves an antitrust complaint filed by the Justice Department against I.B.M. in 1952 when the company's main business was punch-card technology rather than computers. In 1956, Judge Edelstein signed a consent order to which the Justice Department and I.B.M. agreed, under which the company would modify some business practices.

I.B.M Sought to End Suit

On June 13, I.B.M.'s lawyers filed a motion seeking to end the 1956 consent decree on the ground that advances in computer technology had made it obsolete and that it was adversely affecting the company's ability to compete effectively in worldwide computer markets.

Five days earlier, the lawyers had filed a motion asking Judge Edelstein to remove himself from the case.

I.B.M. contends that Judge Edelstein consistently favored the Government in another antitrust complaint against I.B.M., which the Justice Department dropped in 1982 after 13 years of litigation, despite the judge's opposition.

The company also contends that the judge badgered I.B.M. executives and harassed defense witnesses, treating them with "asperity, incivility and hostility," and that he had altered court transcripts.

But in an order signed July 28 and released this week, Judge Edelstein had the last word for the fourth straight time, calling I.B.M.'s charges against him "ludicrous" and "typical of the defendant's tendency to allege bias and prejudice where no reasonable person would perceive the appearance of any bias or prejudice whatsoever."

The Judge's Response

"Defendant, or defendant's counsel, apparently is determined to bring a motion for recusal each time I.B.M. appears before this court," the judge said. "At this point, considerable judicial resources have been expended reviewing time and again what is clearly a contention devoid of merit."

"Furthermore," he said, "these motions flout the important policies against removing judges from cases for frivolous reasons."

Historically, Federal appeals courts have been reluctant to sustain requests that judges remove themselves from cases, on the grounds that it would undermine the Federal judiciary and encourage litigants to "shop" for judges who they believe would be more favorable.

Sitting for 43 years, longer than any other Federal judge in the country, Judge Edelstein has a reputation for having a short judicial fuse and for refusing to suffer litigants who he believes are straying from the law or the evidence in the case.

Lawyers at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, the law firm representing I.B.M., said there had been no decision on whether they would appeal the order to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which has upheld the judge in the past.

Copyright 1994 The New York Times Company