A federal appeals court yesterday rejected a request by International Business Machines Corp. to remove the presiding judge in the Justice Department's 10-year-old case, which seeks to break up the computer giant.
The three-member U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously denied the request, which has tied up the massive case since IBM first asked the judge to disqualify himself last July.
IBM claimed that U.S. District Judge David Edelstein had displayed a bias and prejudice against IBM in his rulings during the trial of the case.
"There is no ruling or comment by the judge which gives any clue or inkling of extrajudicial bias against IBM," the panel said in an opinion written by Judge William Mulligan. "If material legal or factual error has been committed it can be dealt with on plenary appeal."
The government's case against IBM, which was filed on Jan. 17, 1969, is now the subject of intense negotiations between IBM and the Justice Department.
The government has argued its case, beginning arguments in May 1975 and ending its presentation in April 1978. IBM's defense began then and is still continuing.
But IBM, in the midst of its case and to the government's surprise, asked Edelstein to remove himself last July. Edelstein denied the request on Sept. 11. Two days later, IBM asked the appeals court to overturn the trial judge's ruling.
IBM presented no evidence that a conflict of interest could be cited, but essentially based its request on Edelstein's conduct of the trial, noting that an overwhelming percentage of the company's court motions had been denied. The government, on the other hand, pointed out that IBM has offered most of these motions.
IBM also complained about Edelstein's treatment of witnesses and attorneys. "There is no question but that these witnesses have felt that the judge's conduct was intimidating," the appeals court ruling stated, noting that in any event it was up to IBM to prove that such behavior was based on "personal prejudice."