By Brent Kendall 

WASHINGTON -- The federal judge overseeing the Justice Department's antitrust case against Google said the two sides need to do more work in crafting rules about who will have access to sensitive information provided to the federal government by other companies.

The parties need to sort out the issue before they begin preparing for litigation.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said in a hearing Wednesday that the Justice Department's preferred approach was too restrictive and could improperly disadvantage Google by limiting access to material it needs to prepare its defense.

Judge Mehta said there were potential due-process concerns with the government suing a corporation and then telling that corporation that none of its in-house legal counsel could view some of the material in the case.

The judge said it likely wasn't sufficient to allow access only to the outside lawyers representing Google.

At the same time, the judge said he recognized that third-party companies did provide some truly sensitive business information during the Justice Department's investigation that Google officials shouldn't see.

Lawyer Richard Parker, speaking on behalf of eight companies, including AT&T Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp., said those firms disclosed to the department their future plans to compete against, or negotiate with, Google. Disclosing that information to Google employees would cause serious harm, he said.

"They are highly sensitive documents," Mr. Parker said. "They are the playbook."

The judge said he understood, but was worried about too much material being labeled as confidential when some of it actually wasn't that sensitive.

Judge Mehta asked for a more refined proposal on the issue from the government and Google by Dec. 14. He will hold another hearing on Dec. 18 to set out an initial schedule for the case.

The Justice Department sued Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc., in October, alleging the company uses anticompetitive tactics to preserve a monopoly for its flagship search engine and related advertising business. The company denies the allegations.

Write to Brent Kendall at brent.kendall@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 02, 2020 16:39 ET (21:39 GMT)

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