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Enron Judge Brings No-Nonsense Approach to Bench

Shortly after the jurors were picked in the Enron case, U.S. District Judge Simeon Lake gave the group two bits of advice. He gave them detailed routes into downtown Houston that might help avoid morning traffic so they'd be on time each day for court. And he encouraged them to avoid the cranberry muffins in the jury room, saying they have a "medicinal taste." The judge recommended the banana nut muffins instead.

That's an indication of a "matter-of-fact", no-nonsense approach to life that Judge Lake often brings to the bench. He's known to be punctual and precise. He doesn't like to keep people waiting and those who know him say he'll take that approach to overseeing the trial of former Enron lions Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling.

Judge Lake also leaves no question about who's in charge in his courtroom. When Judge Lake said it would only take only one day to pick a jury, there were lots of skeptics. But after eight hours, a panel of eight women and four men was sworn in after sifting through 96 potential jurors.

Prior to being appointed to the bench in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan, Lake practiced law at Fulbright & Jaworski, where he was an environmental litigator. Lake made a name for himself even in law school at the University of Texas, where he graduated first in his class.

The slender 61-year-old jurist has a reputation as a hard worker, arriving at work early each day and holding attorneys to strict schedules. Those who've argued in his court and his colleagues say Judge Lake is highly intelligent and extremely well prepared for each case, knowing the specific details of the filings presented in his court.

He'll occasionally have fun at an attorney's expense, chiding a lawyer about the number of press interviews they've done or for trying to exercise control in his court. But he has earned the respect of the lawyers who practice in Houston. In the Houston Bar Association's most recent annual judicial preference poll, about 250 lawyers gave Judge Lake a 70 percent or higher approval rating in categories that included following the law, preparedness, treating lawyers courteously, efficiency and hard work. Only one other judge in Houston received higher ratings.

Lake was born in Chicago in 1944. He is an amateur historian and teaches Sunday school at his Church. Lake is also an avid biker and jogger. He is married and has two grown sons.

Judge Lake caught the attention of white-collar crime attorneys nearly two years ago when he sentenced former Dynegy Inc. financial executive Jamie Olis to 24 years in prison. Olis was on trial for a scheme that disguised the company's debt as cash flow. That verdict is now being appealed.

Paul Pendergraft is news director of Houston Public Radio.

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Paul Pendergraft