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SMC grad oversees major trial

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, February 16, 2005

United States District Court Judge and Saint Mary’s alumna Denise Cote will make history once again during the next few months while presiding over the WorldCom accounting fraud trial in Manhattan, one of the largest ever security cases.Cote, 58, set the tone for the high profile court battle early in pretrial hearings by ordering settlement negotiations to begin just one month after the lead plaintiff, the New York State Common Retirement Fund, filed its class action complaint. She also limited each side 60 days to present their depositions.The case, which includes prominent defendants such as auditor Arthur Anderson and investment banks J.P. Morgan Chase and Deutsche Bank, originally involved 42 class-action suits which have since been consolidated into one. The case is scheduled to begin Feb. 28.Since being nominated to the United States District Court in 1994 by former President Bill Clinton, Cote has presided over major headline cases.Most recently, a class action sex discrimination case brought against Morgan Stanley was settled for $54 million under Cote’s presiding.In a 1998 case involving sweat shop labor in the New York area, Cote ruled clothing companies were responsible for ensuring their subcontractors pay their employees legal working wages including overtime pay. The decision impacted the entire clothing industry, forcing contractors to monitor working conditions closer.The New York Times, in a Jan. 30 article titled “The Sisterhood Judging WorldCom,” featured Cote and fellow District Court Judge and Mount St. Mary’s College graduate Barbara Jones. Former colleague and attorney Otto Obermaier called Cote an “iron magnolia” who is “quite forceful.””I always had great confidence in her abilities,” Obermaier told The New York Times. “She didn’t bring every detail to me. I felt comfortable in delegating to her enormous amount of responsibility.”Legal struggles surrounding WorldCom were set into motion in 2002 when the company filed for bankruptcy, making WorldCom the largest company ever to do so in the United States. The estimated $11 billion in accounting fraud at WorldCom cost thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars lost in investment money. The criminal trial for WorldCom chief executive Bernard Ebbers has already begun in another New York courthouse.Born in St. Cloud, Minn., Cote graduated from Saint Mary’s in 1968. She studied history at Columbia University and taught at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, a school in Manhattan.Cote returned to Columbia and in 1975 graduated with her law degree. She began clerking for District Court Judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn and later became an assistant U.S. attorney and the first female chief of the criminal division for the Southern District of New York.Cote spent a decade working as a federal prosecutor and had a brief stint in legal defense before Clinton appointed her to the United States District Court.