Judge Richard Leon wanted to make one thing clear to the lawyers from AT&T when they met with the Justice Department on Thursday: This is not a normal case.
“And I’ve had a number of big ones, as some of you know,” he added, according to a lengthy Washington Post profile of the man who’ll hear the largest antitrust case in decades.
The legal teams met with Leon on Thursday ahead of a trial to decide if the DOJ can stop AT&T from purchasing Time Warner for $85 million. Described as “loud and aggressive” from the bench, the bow-tie-clad Leon will hear arguments for the case beginning March 19.
Leon is considered a maverick, handing down decisions that reveal no clear political allegiance.
He worked in a private practice and for the Justice Department before he was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by President George W. Bush in 2002. He teaches at Georgetown Law alongside John Podesta, former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. The two became friends after Leon, as a special counsel to the House Banking Committee, deposed Podesta during the Whitewater investigation in 1994.
His record includes rulings that put both Republican and Democratic administrations on the defensive. He was the first judge to order the release of detainees from Guantanamo Bay during the last year of President George W. Bush’s term. Leon also ruled that the National Security Agency’s practice of collecting phone records was likely unconstitutional in 2013 under President Barack Obama.
For insight into how Leon might judge this case, many point to his 2011 decision in the Comcast merger. He approved the acquisition, but was skeptical of the terms of the deal and added reporting requirements — an unusual move, according to antitrust experts.
The judge chided both sides on Thursday for bringing so many lawyers to the proceedings. It seems neither legal team can expect Leon to be an ally.
“If Judge Leon asks you a question, you must be prepared to answer it candidly and directly,” Charles Leeper, a partner at the law firm Drinker Biddle who has appeared before Leon several times, told the Washington Post. “If he perceives evasiveness or dissembling in your response, you are lost.”