Kimba M. Wood ’69
"I enjoy the unending diversity of my work," says U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood, who has served for nine years on the federal bench in Manhattan. She handles about 400 new cases every year, ranging from cases requiring analysis of the competitive dynamics of entire industries, to those requiring her to decide whether one design for a pair of sneakers "knocks off" another company’s design.
One example of the former is a recent antitrust trial in which the New York State Attorney General challenged an acquisition by one large cereal manufacturer of the assets of another. In the course of ruling that the acquisition did not violate antitrust laws, Wood was called upon to analyze in depth the pricing structure and other competitive features of the cereal industry.
The judge’s most highly publicized case was the securities fraud sentencing hearing for junk-bond king Michael Milken, whom she ultimately sentenced to a two-year prison term. She also oversaw the massive 1996 settlement in which Japan-based Daiwa Bank, Ltd. pleaded guilty to a criminal cover-up of $1.1 billion in trading losses and was fined $340 million.
After her studies at Connecticut College and the London School of Economics, where she earned a master’s degree, Wood became one of fewer than 40 women in her class at HLS. "Our welcome was an uneven one," she says. "To its credit, the School has worked hard to change this." Particularly memorable for Wood was the introduction to legal reasoning she received in Professor Robert Braucher’s Contracts class, and the experience of studying Constitutional Law with Professor Paul Freund.
After law school, Wood worked in the legal services program for the poor at the federal Office of Economic Opportunity before joining LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & MacRae in 1971, where she became a formidable litigator and antitrust expert. Of her transition from private practice, the judge reflects: "I had to go through a process of learning not to form conclusions as quickly as I had as a litigator, in an attempt to become a truly neutral, fair judge." Wood has demonstrated this achievement on the bench, where she is perceived as completely evenhanded. She is praised by litigators for her intelligence and her pragmatism. These qualities were displayed to HLS students when she shared the bench with Supreme Court Justice David Souter ’66 and Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr. during the 1993 Ames Competition.
Judge Wood relishes the groundbreaking legal questions that continually arise in her courtroom. She recently gave Law Review president Kenneth Bamberger ’98 the opportunity to work on one such issue during his day of legal servitude, for which she was the high bidder at last spring’s Student Public Interest Auction.
As a Visiting Committee member, Wood comes to the School regularly and pays close attention to student concerns. She is also active in the HLSA New York chapter and served a term as president. "What keeps me so connected to the School," says Wood, "is that it continues to develop and progress on so many fronts."