To some who know her, the federal judge who threw the book at Michael Milken yesterday called on various parts of her background in arriving at her sentence.
Some mentioned Kimba Wood's upbringing in a military family, with its strong sense of right and wrong. Others pointed to her extensive background in business and antitrust law, which gave her an understanding of the ethics of the corporate boardrooms in which Milken operated.
But to almost all of the friends and colleagues interviewed after the verdict yesterday, Wood's decision in the Milken case -- and the process by which she arrived at it -- reflected more than anything the 46-year-old jurist's even-handed personality and her desire to review all the facts carefully and methodically before making a decision.
"My sense of her is that this result is not based on any preconceived notions on anything, but is based entirely on what was before her," said Jeffrey Mishkin, chairman of the federal courts committee of the Bar Association of New York City and a longtime friend.
"I don't remember a judge putting in such time and going through such a methodical and laborious process before reaching a sentencing decision," said Lloyd Constantine, a friend and one-time legal adversary who is head of antitrust enforcement for New York State.
Until yesterday's sentence, little was known about how tough Wood could be in handing down punishment. She has been on the federal bench at Manhattan's Foley Square courthouse for more than two years, and the Milken case -- to which she was assigned randomly -- was her first high-profile criminal case. But in her short time on the bench -- and in her nearly two decades of law practice before that -- Wood has won an impressive reputation for fairness and competence. A soft voice and manner, admirers say, belie her brilliance and toughness.
"Anybody who underestimates her persistence or strength makes a mistake. She's soft on the outside but strong on the inside," said Stephen M. Axinn, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York, who has known Wood for a decade.
Wood presided over the Milken case in a undramatic, self-effacing way, often reading from prepared texts rather than speaking off the cuff. But she made it clear that she was in charge of the courtroom, admonishing Milken defense attorney Arthur Liman for theatrics from time to time, or telling prosecutors what she would and would not take into consideration in arriving at her sentence.
Wood, the daughter of a career Army officer, grew up on military bases in the Washington area and overseas. Her parents named her after a small town in Australia that they picked from an atlas. Wood went to Connecticut College and then to Harvard Law School.
She spent most of her legal career specializing in corporate and antitrust law at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby and MacRae in New York, where she was made a partner in 1978, but neither that conservative background nor her appointment to the federal bench by President Reagan at the behest of Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) allow her to be easily pigeonholed politically -- Wood is a registered Democrat with moderate to liberal leanings, according to her husband, Time magazine writer Michael Kramer.
Wood has a 4-year-old son and enjoys gardening and tennis. Friends describe her as a hard worker, though not a workaholic. "She just juggles these things," her husband said. "She does a lot of mothering, she cooks a lot, basically for some kind of therapy."
"She's a real smart woman. Beautiful, modest. Miss America, you know? But real," Constantine said. "If I were being sentenced, even having heard how stiff this sentence was, I'd want to be sentenced by Kimba Wood, because I know she's a fair person."