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FTC Hires Former Justice Department Prosecutor for Google Case; Signals the Gravity of the Case Against Google

The Federal Trade Commission has hired Washington lawyer Beth Wilkinson to serve as outside counsel in its case against Google, the New York Times reports, “sending a strong signal that they are prepared to take the Internet giant to court.”

Wilkinson is a former Justice Department prosecutor who played a lead role in the government’s case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. According to the San Jose Mercury News, this hire “signal[s] the gravity of the government’s antitrust investigation against Google.”

While FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said that hiring Wilkinson does not necessarily signal that the FTC has decided to bring an antitrust case against Google, it is the first time in five years that the FTC has taken such a step. Several sources indicate that this is a sign that the Commission is moving beyond the preliminary stages of the investigation and are preparing for a court battle.

Several prominent lawyers have come forward to note the significance of the FTC’s step:

Samuel Miller, a San Francisco antitrust lawyer who was involved in the Justice Department’s 1993 case against Microsoft, said, “This means, to me, that the FTC is quite serious about bringing a case against Google. The antitrust authorities don’t bring in outside counsel unless they are very serious about bringing a case.”

Gary Reback, a Palo Alto antitrust lawyer who represents several internet companies that have filed complaints about Google, said, “This is not a good day for Google. They are now sitting across the table from somebody who is not going to flinch.”

David Wales, the FTC’s former acting director of the Bureau of Competition, said, “It’s a watershed moment when you hire someone like this. This shows Google that if it doesn’t give you the remedy you want, you’re going to litigate.”

Wales also said, “This may not be a declaration of all-out war, but it’s like things have been ratcheted up to ‘Defcon 4,'” said Wales, now a partner at the law firm of Jones Day. “You don’t do something like this unless you think there is a good chance there will be litigation.”

This latest news is further proof that the FTC views the evidence gathered about Google’s anti-competitive business practices as troubling as does FairSearch. The time to put an end to the company’s abuse of its dominance is now.