NEW YORK, Sept 1 (Reuters) - Timing will be everything in AT&T's court battle with the U.S. government, and the judge overseeing the case has a reputation for speedy rulings and decisions that pack a punch.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle in Washington, D.C., was selected at random to preside over the Justice Department's case against AT&T, one of the biggest antitrust court battles in years.
AT&T Inc has asked for an expedited hearing in the lawsuit, which was filed on Wednesday and challenges the proposed $39 billion purchase of Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA. Months or years of uncertainty could force the deal to collapse, legal analysts say.
Several lawyers who have argued cases before Huvelle say she addresses issues swiftly, and comes to hearings well prepared.
Huvelle has presided over securities litigation, employment discrimination cases, unlawful imprisonment cases brought by detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and criminal cases stemming from the probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"We get a great big variety of cases here," Huvelle said in a brief telephone interview with Reuters on Thursday.
Huvelle has handled about 20 antitrust-related cases, according to Monitor Suite, a data division of Thomson Reuters.
Among these, the Justice Department's 2001 case challenging SunGard Data System's acquisition of Comdisco was the most "extraordinary," Huvelle said.
Because Comdisco was facing bankruptcy in a parallel case, Huvelle was forced to rule in two-months time. She decided the deal could go through, delivering a rebuke to the Justice Department.
In pretrial proceedings in the government's antitrust challenge to EchoStar Communication's proposed merger with rival satellite firm Hughes Electronic Corp's DirecTV in 2002, she criticized the way the companies responded to regulators, calling them "sluggish."
Huvelle declined to talk about the AT&T matter, as it is a pending case. But she seemed to relish her position as a federal judge.
"The pay isn't very good," said Huvelle. "The pace is wonderful. And I get to try to figure out what's reasonable and what's right under the law."
Huvelle was appointed to the federal bench in 1999 by then President Bill Clinton, and previously served as a trial judge in Washington D.C. Superior Court. Before that, she was a litigator at the prestigious law firm Williams & Connolly, handling civil litigation, tax fraud and other cases.
Last year, she grabbed headlines by initially refusing to approve a $75 million settlement between the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Citigroup Inc over the bank's disclosure of losses on subprime mortgages.
At a hearing she told a lawyer for the SEC that aspects of the proposed settlement were "unimpressive," "flawed" and "totally unsatisfactory."
She also took a Citi lawyer to task over the bank's disclosures.
In another case, Huvelle had harsh words for the Obama administration over the treatment of Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad. Huvelle determined that much of the government's evidence had been obtained through torture.
"Enough has been imposed on this young man," Huvelle said in a July 2009 court hearing in which she ordered the government to release the detainee, who had been imprisoned for more than six years.
'PRAGMATIC AND SENSITIVE'
In sentencing former Republican U.S. Representative Bob Ney of Ohio in a corruption case, Huvelle meted out a punishment that was longer than both prosecutors and the defendant had requested.
"She can be firm in her treatment of those found guilty and who plead guilty," said Ney's attorney, Mark Tuohey. "But she took a pragmatic and sensitive approach."
Huvelle's recommendation that Ney serve time in a prison alcohol treatment program, "saved his life," said Tuohey.
"You know where you stand with her, and she doesn't waste time," said James Klimaski, a Washington-based lawyer who has appeared before Huvelle in more than a dozen civil liberties and employment matters.
Some judges can take months to rule on a simple motion, Klimaski said. But in Huvelle's court, he said, "if you file a motion you are going to get an opinion in a couple of weeks."
The case is USA v. AT&T Inc et al, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 11-cv-1560.
(Reporting by Carlyn Kolker)
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