Rajaratnam trial "personally challenging", judge says

Tue Feb 7, 2012 8:52pm EST
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By Grant McCool

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Presiding over the high-profile insider-trading trial and sentencing of Galleon hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam was "personally challenging," says Richard Holwell, who left the federal judiciary to start a new law firm on Tuesday.

One-time high flying billionaire Rajaratnam was convicted in a sweeping jury verdict on 14 charges in federal court in New York last May. Holwell sentenced him in October to serve 11 years in prison, the longest term on record for insider trading.

"I personally found it a difficult court case because it had to be dealt with both on an individual level and, obviously, the case had implications for the financial markets and the social fabric in general," Holwell, who is starting a litigation boutique in Manhattan with two other lawyers, said in a telephone interview.

"You couldn't really overlook where it was and it was always a constant struggle to strike the right balance on how one approached the case. In that sense, it was personally challenging."

Holwell, 65, was nominated by President George W. Bush and appointed to U.S. District Court in Manhattan in 2003. On Tuesday, he acknowledged it was rare for a judge appointed for life to stand down and return to private practice.

"I felt just a little itch and wanted to try and get back in the courtroom from the other side of the rail," Holwell said.

He said he started discussions about forming a new firm in the late summer and early fall of 2011.

Holwell presided over many complex financial cases during his time as a judge. Among his notable rulings was one allowing the government's wiretap evidence in the Rajaratnam case, but not before presiding over a special four day-long evidentiary hearing to allow Rajaratnam's lawyers to challenge them.   Continued...

<p>Galleon hedge fund founder Raj Rajaratnam departs Manhattan Federal Court after his sentencing in New York October 13, 2011. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>