Trump travel-ban judge's form as legal champion of the 'wronged'

20 March 2017 1:24pm

4 February 2017. By Amy Miller and Mike Swift

The "so-called" federal judge who riled President Donald Trump by defying his controversial immigration order is a Republican appointee who has overseen big-ticket corporate litigation, but he's also a champion of causes for underprivileged children.

US District Judge James Robart in Seattle, nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003, has attracted the attention of the world's media, when Trump derided Robart's decision that temporarily blocked enforcement of the ban, calling it "ridiculous" on Twitter and predicting it would be overturned.

In a later Tweet Saturday, the President called it "a terrible decision," and said "many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country" as a result.

Robart is no stranger to high-stakes litigation. He's been broadly influential in the evolution of intellectual property law in recent years. In 2013, he became the first US judge to undertake the highly complex task of setting a licensing rate for a portfolio of standard-essential patents in a smartphone licensing dispute between Microsoft and Motorola.

And Judge Robart, whose opinion has guided subsequent licensing decisions on SEPs, is poised to decide a significant privacy challenge lodged by Microsoft against the government's secret searches of e-mail and social media accounts stored in the cloud.

On the bench in his Seattle courtroom, Robart is known for wearing a bow tie, peeking through the top of his judge's robes. During oral arguments, he's confident with lawyers, keeping high-powered legal teams for large corporations such as Microsoft and Google on a strict time-table, with an often-humorous but always firm guiding presence.

He's also known for a fiscal responsibility some would call frugal. The Seattle native was still driving a 1986 Volvo sedan when Bush nominated him to the federal bench in December 2003. He was then managing partner of the law firm Lane Powell Spears Lubersky, one of the largest in Seattle, with a book of business that included big-name clients such as Shell Oil.

The son of a ship captain for Standard Oil of California, Robart may lack pretension, but not drive, say those who've worked with him. He was in the third grade when he went to the Seattle federal courthouse to watch his mother being sworn in as a US citizen.

He was student body president at Shoreline High School, and an Eagle Scout. He attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington on a scholarship, graduating magna cum laude in 1969.

He studied law at Georgetown University Law Center, and also worked 30 hours a week for senators and congressmen. He assisted Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson - a Democrat from Washington State - on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and worked for Congressman John Dellenback -- an Oregon Republican -- as a legislative assistant.

After graduating from Georgetown in 1973, Robart moved back to Seattle and joined Lane Powell, where he began building a complex commercial litigation practice over the next 30 years, representing several major clients besides Shell Oil.

He helped Nordstrom settle a class action filed by former and current employees who wanted to be paid for alleged "off-the-clock" work. In 2000, he argued successfully to have a controversial car-tab measure in Washington state declared unconstitutional. It would have required a public vote on all tax increases.

Robart also held several leadership positions at Lane Powell, building a reputation as a savvy, measured manager generous with his support and time, say former colleagues. He chaired its 85-member litigation department from 1992 to 1998; was co-managing partner from 1997 until 2002, and managing partner from 2003 until his appointment to the federal bench.

One of his top priorities, say former colleagues, was strengthening the firm's reputation in the community by working for the underprivileged. Robart and his wife, Mari Jalbing, have been long-time advocates for children's organizations and have fostered six children. Robart is a former president and trustee of Seattle Children's home and a former trustee of Children's Home Society of Washington.

In fact, the only question Senator Orrin Hatch, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked Robart at his confirmation hearing back in 2004 was how his work for Evergreen Legal Services in Washington had affected him as an attorney, and how it would affect him as a judge.

"I was introduced to people who in many times felt that the legal system was stacked against them or was unfair," Robart said at the time. "And one of the things, I think, that my time there helped accomplish was to show them that the legal system was set up for their benefit and that it could be, if properly used, an opportunity for them to seek redress if they had been wronged."

"Well, thank you," Hatch said. "That is a great answer."