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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

U.S. judge rooted in Nassau will sentence former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen leaves federal court on Nov. 29

Michael Cohen leaves federal court on Nov. 29 in Manhattan.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

When President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen returns to Manhattan federal court on Wednesday, he is due to stand before William H. Pauley III, a senior judge for the Southern District of New York.

Pauley, 66, a Glen Cove native, has ruled prominently in several other high-profile court battles since his Senate confirmation to the federal bench 20 years ago as a nominee of President Bill Clinton.

By all accounts, Pauley, a registered Republican listed as residing in Garden City, qualifies for the cliche moniker of a "no-nonsense" judge.

The spotlight is extra intense because of the Cohen case's implications for the Trump presidency. There is tension between prosecution and defense over how Cohen's guilty plea to tax fraud, campaign finance violations and other charges should be treated.

According to the U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman's office, sentencing guidelines suggest incarceration of 4 years, 3 months to 5 years, 3 months.

Considering Cohen's degree of cooperation, both Berman (a Trump appointee) and special counsel Robert Mueller say Cohen's sentence should be set below the guidelines.

This is where Pauley's discretion will come in. He can choose punishment from below, within or above the guidelines. Cohen's lawyers have asked for no confinement.

"In my experience, Judge Pauley is a stern sentencer, particularly where the defendant has exploited a position of authority and acted out of greed or arrogance," Elie Honig, a former prosecutor, wrote on the CNN website.

Pauley himself told The Wall Street Journal in 2010; "A courtroom is a formal place. Serious things happen there. That was my view as lawyer and as a judge."

After graduating from Duke University's law school in 1977, Pauley was an intern for the Nassau County attorney. From 1978 until his nomination to the federal bench, Pauley was in private practice. 

For a time into the 1990s, Pauley served as a lawyer defending the village of Island Park, the home turf of former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, from widely publicized charges of housing discrimination. He also served between 1984 and 1998 as assistant counsel to Assembly minority leaders Clarence Rappleyea and Tom Reynolds.

Pauley was a partner of  lawyer Franklyn Snitow, who became well-known in the city for representing Hasidic Jews in lawsuits stemming from mob attacks on them in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in 1991.

From the bench, Pauley's rulings have resounded in several areas. When sentencing a former Army engineer named Ben-Ami Kadish for illegally passing weapons information to Israel, he declared: "This offense is a grave one that implicates the national security of the United States. Why it took the government 23 years to charge Mr. Kadish is shrouded in mystery." 

The defendant, in his mid-80s, got no jail time and paid a $50,000 fine.

After 9/11, Pauley sparked static from civil libertarians for upholding the legality of warrantless government collection of cellphone metadata.

Another Pauley ruling sided with unpaid interns doing work employers would otherwise assign to paid employees. He found that the Fair Labor Standards Act "does not allow employees to waive their entitlement to wages."

Last month, in a surprise decision, Pauley struck down a big settlement that called for appointing a monitor to oversee the New York City Housing Authority and mandating that the city make more than $1 billion in repairs. Pauley suggested the federal government take over NYCHA.

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