It's the end of an era at the International Trade Commission with the retirement today of Chief Administrative Law Judge Paul Luckern, who is 81.
The longest-serving ALJ in agency history, Luckern for 27 years presided over scores of high-stakes intellectual property cases known in ITC shorthand as 337s (brought under Section 337 of the Tariff Act of 1930).
Lawyers who practice before the agency offered tributes via email of Luckern's remarkable tenure on the bench.
Covington & Burling partner Sturgis Sobin recalled that Luckern's first 337 trial as a judge was also his first trial as a brand-new attorney 27 years ago.
"Most people take for granted now many of the attributes that make 337 attractive for high stakes, complex patent litigation," Sobin wrote. "They don't necessarily appreciate how much the law and forum have evolved over that time and how much of a role he has had in moving the forum from fights over counterfeit toys and 10-page Initial Determinations into what is now the dominant global tribunal for high stakes, leading edge technology."
He continued, "What's equally important to remember is the way he did it -- by holding himself to extremely high standards and being faithful to those standards for over more than a quarter century."
Eric Schweibenz, a partner at Oblon, Spivak, McClelland, Maier & Neustad, shared Sobin's assessment.
"I think there is little doubt that Chief ALJ Luckern is the most important and influential administrative law judge in the history of the ITC," said Schweibenz. "His level of preparedness, hard-working reputation, and candid style are unmatched. I also think that the ITC has become a preferred forum for resolving intellectual property disputes in large part due to the example set by ALJ Luckern in consistently hearing such disputes in an efficient and effective manner."
V James Adduci II of Adduci, Mastriani & Schaumberg called Luckern "the face of Section 337 for nearly thirty years as a highly experienced and knowledgeable patent practitioner, a willing public spokesman about the intricacies of the statute and the commission's procedure and a tireless judge who never asked more from the parties before him than he was willing to give to assure just adjudication of the issues. For those of us who practice in this area, we will forever be in his debt."
Weil Gotshal & Manges partner Mark Davis wrote that Luckern's "defining characteristic has always been respect--respect for the litigants appearing before him, respect for the investigative process entrusted to the commission, and respect for the law."
Steptoe & Johnson partner Alice Kipel wrote, "I cannot count the number of times that, upon hearing that I practice at the ITC in Section 337 proceedings, unsolicited, people have said to me: 'Your Chief Judge is great!' I think that aptly sums up how we all feel about Judge Luckern and how proud we are that so many people outside our own 'small world' recognize how special he is."
Luckern's retirement comes on the heels of the departure of ALJ Carl Charneski, who joined Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione in Washington on July 21. This leaves the ITC with just four judges at a time when it's busier than ever before.
The number of 337 complaints filed in the first six months of 2011 was well above the pace set in 2010 -- which itself broke previous caseload records.
The ITC says it is actively seeking to fill the vacancies. Charles Bullock will serve as acting chief administrative law judge.