Manhattan federal judge William Pauley dies at 68

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A view of the judge's chair in court room 422 of the New York Supreme Court at 60 Centre Street February 3, 2012. Picture taken February 3, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East (UNITED STATES- Tags: CRIME LAW) - GM1E82D13FE01

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(Reuters) - U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III, who oversaw two decades of Manhattan federal court fights including the criminal case against longtime Donald Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, has died. He was 68.

Pauley died Tuesday morning "after a battle with an illness," Southern District of New York district court executive Edward Friedland said in an email.

Pauley had taken senior status in 2018. He joined the court in 1998, appointed by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat.

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He presided over a string of high-profile cases: In 2013 he ruled that the National Security Agency could lawfully record millions of Americans' phone calls, a decision a federal appeals court later overturned, and in 2016 he picked a monitor to ensure Deutsche Bank AG reported swaps data properly.

In 2018 he sentenced Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, to three years in prison for his role in making illegal hush-money payments to women to help Trump's 2016 election campaign and for lying to Congress about a proposed Trump Tower project in Russia.

SDNY Chief Judge Laura Taylor Swain called Pauley "a great judge – wise, engaged, excited about his role in making sure that justice was served in every case – and a great friend and colleague" in a statement on Tuesday.

Judge Colleen McMahon said in a statement that Pauley's "judicial record speaks for itself, but fewer are aware of his significant presence behind the scenes." He had chaired the court's security committee, working to keep courthouses safe, and was on its COVID-19 response team.

"He was a wise counselor to anyone who asked him for advice. And that advice was invariably sound. He was a loving husband, a proud father of three fine young men, a good citizen of his community and a respected member of the Bar," McMahon said. "I will miss him every day."

She and Pauley were nominated and confirmed to the bench on the same day.

Before becoming a judge, Pauley was assistant counsel to the New York State Assembly minority leader and was a founding partner at Snitow & Pauley, a midtown Manhattan law firm that focused on complex federal civil litigation.

Pauley, who was born on Long Island, started his legal career as a deputy Nassau County attorney. He graduated from Duke University School of Law.

"A loving husband and father, he and his wife, Kimberly, regularly took part in court occasions and enjoyed family activities with their sons," the district court said in a statement Tuesday. "He will be missed greatly."

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Caroline Spiezio covers legal industry news, with a focus on law firms and in-house counsel. She is based in New York. Reach her at Caroline.Spiezio@thomsonreuters.com.