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Federal Judge Quits to Join Facebook

May 16, 2016, 1:27 PM UTC
Photograph by Thomas Trutschel Photothek via Getty Images

In the latest sign of Facebook’s prestige and influence, the social network was able to lure a tech-savvy U.S. judge to step down from the bench and join the company as an in-house lawyer.

As reported by The Recorder, the new hire is U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Grewal, a well-respected figure in legal circles, who was a patent lawyer before joining the federal bench in San Jose, Calif. six years ago.

During his time on the bench, Grewal worked on high profile intellectual property cases between Silicon Valley giants, including the Apple-Samsung patent battle and the copyright clash between Google and Oracle.

At Facebook (FB), he will take on the title of vice president and deputy general counsel of litigation starting in late June as well as help the social network oversee its global legal strategy.

The news earned Grewal congratulations from the legal community and from government officials, which he acknowledged on Twitter:

Grewal has yet to update his Facebook page, which still describes him as “Judge at United States Federal Courts” and shows Facebook executives Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg among his friends.

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Grewal’s move is unusual in that federal judges rarely give up the prestige, job security, and generous pension of the bench for an outside position.

One can only speculate as to why Grewal made the move, but one motivation may have been money. Magistrate judges earn around $200,000 a year, which is a figure Facebook could easily top. Another reason may have been ambition. While magistrate judges perform vital and important work, especially involving criminal cases, they earn slightly less and are often overshadowed by the district judges who are their day-to-day colleagues.

In his new position, Grewal will take up a challenging position with worldwide influence. As he told the Recorder:

“Joining Facebook presents a unique opportunity to work on complex legal and policy questions that affect billions of people all over the world in a variety of ways. It has been a privilege to serve the Northern District of California over the past six years, and I look forward to returning to practice at an innovative company like Facebook.”

The tech community, meanwhile, will likely miss Grewal’s technological chops and his concern for privacy. While on the bench, Grewal became associated with the so-called “Magistrate’s Revolt,” which describes a push by magistrate judges to limit law enforcement’s use of warrants to sweep up a wide-range of digital data.