White-Collar Pit Bull

Julius Finkelstein is a rare bird. He not only boasts a graduate degree in computer science from Stanford University but also a law degree from Duke University. That makes him the perfect person to run the high-tech-crimes unit at the district attorney's office in Santa Clara County, Calif.--where he reigns as the top white-collar crime cop in Silicon Valley.

As Avant! Corp. (AVNT ) learned the hard way, the 54-year-old Finkelstein is a tough opponent. Working with two associates, he took on 10 high-powered law firms that billed the company more than $30 million in fees. Using nearly every stonewalling trick in the book, his adversaries nearly got the case thrown out on a technicality last March, when a grand jury indictment that had required three months and 50 witnesses to secure was rejected. The reason: The court recorder had transcribed the actual testimony but not the courtroom banter during the rest of the proceedings.

Finkelstein also took some heat for his handling of the case. Many in Silicon Valley felt the case was a mere business dispute that should have been left to the civil courts. Others felt Finkelstein was too close to Cadence (CDN ). Some defense lawyers, for instance, argued that it was inappropriate for him to use expert testimony paid for by Cadence in a separate civil suit. They also complained about the fact that some Cadence insiders, tipped off to a raid of Avant! offices in 1995, shorted Avant! shares. Finkelstein points out that his use of Cadence-funded experts was upheld by the Court, and denies he inappropriately tipped off Cadence about the raid.

His victory has washed away much of the criticism. He may even alter Silicon Valley's fast-and-loose approach to intellectual property theft. Until now, when an employee is caught walking off with purloined code, it is quietly settled with a check and an apology. Finkelstein says that's not good enough given how central it is to the New Economy. "Companies that use stolen technology are like gold mines that don't actually own any gold," he says. In the wake of the Avant! case, execs who use stolen code now even face jail time.

By Peter Burrows

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