Judge William Alsup Brings Levity to Waymo-Uber Trial

By: Bridget Clerkin February 7, 2018
Federal judge William Alsup is bringing his special brand of wit and wisdom to the Waymo-Uber lawsuit.
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Some heroes wear capes. Others don the black robes of the Justice Department.

Enter Judge William Alsup.

The San Francisco justice presiding over the largest lawsuit to ever reach Silicon Valley has no problem speaking truth to its power players—or anyone else he feels needs to hear it.

Known for dishing out wit and delivering justice with equal fervor and frequency, the judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California put on a clinic in the opening hours of the Waymo-Uber trial, cementing his fan-favorite status by punching up on behalf of the public.

The suit kicked off with a quip, as Alsup quickly noted the “unconscionable” number of attorneys packed into his courtroom.

The reason the public is not in here is that you've failed me once again,” he remarked to the lawyers, who arrived before observers were allowed to enter the chambers—and took up more than half the room’s seats.

The remaining spots were duly designated to those with the willpower to show up to court before the sun rose. Observers who opted for the snooze button instead found themselves at the end of a snaking line, and eventually in an overflow room—the tech support for which also drew ire from Alsup, who picked on the “rat’s nest” of white cables tangling up a corner of his courtroom in the name of transmitting video and sound to the second location.

But it turns out the judge was only doing what he does best: calling out a mess. The tech issues continued when a booming voice mysteriously took over the loudspeaker, interrupting Uber attorney Bill Carmody mid-opening statement. That moment when the tech world’s biggest trial, being fought over trade secrets, is put on pause for technical difficulties that may have broadcasted those discussions straight into other courtrooms—or beyond. Talk about irony. 

I’ve been on the bench 19 years, and this is the first time signals have come in from outer space,” a bemused Alsup noted. “In my moment of need, the IT people have naturally abandoned me.”

The sound system and errant information technology officers weren’t the only ones to let the judge down. The court thermostat also earned a dishonorable mention.

“I'm going to issue a court order for the [General Services Administration] to appear before me and explain why it's 85 degrees in here," he said after a brief recess.

Thankfully, he came prepared for the heat with plenty of shade.

As lawyers for both sides scrapped over opening statement frivolities, Alsup noted that the attorneys were engaging in “Soviet-style negotiating,” which translates to “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is negotiable.”

When the discussion turned to the coming testimony of Waymo CEO John Krafcik, the justice promised attorneys, “You can always call him back. Even if he’s Mr. Big of All Time and has to cancel trips to Asia, he will be at your beck and call.

But one mysterious witness in particular suffered Alsup’s hottest take of the day.

“I won’t name any names, but someone who’s a witness who thinks he’s important wanted a private room,” Alsup said. “No. He’ll have to accommodate just like the rest of us. Public doesn’t get a private room, just because they’re famous.

Even as the day’s proceedings wound down, Alsup was still wound up. An unexpected issue at the eleventh hour prompted the judge to ask lawyers for a 6 a.m. briefing the following morning—but not before he reminded the well-heeled group, “That’s why they pay you $1,000 an hour: to stay up all night.”

Alsup aficionados will have plenty of chances to appreciate his wit and wisdom for the next few weeks as the trial winds on. But, despite evidence to the contrary, there’s one place fans won’t be able to follow his official orders: Twitter.

A parody account bearing his name declared an UberEats delivery of pressed juices and burritos would arrive for “the animals in the overflow room,” but Alsup cheerily informed court-goers he wasn’t responsible for the online presence—or the promised food.

“I don’t have a Twitter account,” he said. “Don’t be taken in.” 

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