Judge Kicks Off Scheduling in Google Antitrust Case
By Brent Kendall
WASHINGTON -- The federal judge presiding over the Justice
Department's antitrust case against Google held a first scheduling
hearing Friday, with the search giant arguing it needs quick access
to the government's investigation files before it can decide on its
next steps in litigation.
The department sued Google last week, taking aim at the heart of
the company's search business. It alleges Google is using
exclusionary deals and other tactics to prevent anyone from
challenging its dominance in search and search advertising. Google,
a unit of Alphabet Inc., denies the allegations and called the
government's case misguided.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, in a 45-minute telephone
hearing, previewed several preliminary issues on the horizon. The
judge said Google's initial written answer to the Justice
Department's lawsuit was due in mid-December, but he asked whether
the company might first seek to file a motion to dismiss the case
Google lawyer John Schmidtlein of law firm Williams &
Connolly said the company hadn't yet made a decision on that
question but would be able to give the judge a better idea of its
plans by Nov. 13.
Mr. Schmidtlein said Google was eager to get several preliminary
issues addressed, most importantly obtaining access to the material
the Justice Department generated during its 16-month investigation
that led to the lawsuit.
"We are very anxious and ready and willing to move this case
expeditiously," he said. "We look forward to defending this case to
the fullest. And we want access to that material so we can begin
that process as soon as possible."
Justice Department lawyer Ken Dintzer, who is leading the
government's litigation team, said there were important issues to
work out on the exchange of initial information, including
establishing rules that would limit Google's access to
competitively sensitive materials that other companies provided in
the government's probe.
Judge Mehta expressed confidence that effective protective
measures would be put in place, and he indicated he would like the
matter resolved quickly. "If the defendant is prepared to move
forward, then certainly the government ought to be ready to move
forward as well" in disclosing evidence it has acquired, he
Mr. Dintzer said the Justice Department had information requests
of its own, including a "refresh" of data it received from Google,
which he said didn't include 2020 material. Some significant data
Google handed over also was coded in a way that made it impossible
for the department to use, he said.
Judge Mehta asked Mr. Dintzer whether the government was
contemplating filing an amended lawsuit that would expand its
antitrust allegations, a question that has been the subject of
speculation among legal and tech industry observers since the
announcement of the Justice Department's lawsuit last week.
"At this time we have no intention of amending the complaint,"
Mr. Dintzer responded.
The Justice Department lawyer, responding to other questions
from the judge, also said he couldn't yet say whether more state
attorneys general may seek to join the case.
A group of 11 state attorneys general, all Republicans, have
joined the department so far. Other states are still considering
their own cases related to Google's search practices.
Near the end of the hearing, Judge Mehta said he needed to make
some personal disclosures at the outset of the litigation. The
judge said he has a cousin who works as an engineer at Google and a
close friend was a former Google executive in India. "I don't think
either of these are terribly significant, but I want to make sure
that everybody is aware," he said.
The judge set a next status conference for Nov. 18. Friday's
discussions involved only the most preliminary matters in the case.
Other pretrial matters could take many months to resolve.
Judge Mehta said all proceedings in the case would remain
virtual for the foreseeable future. The parties for now won't be
called to court in person unless there is a "pressing reason" to do
so, he said.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 30, 2020 13:38 ET (17:38 GMT)
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