The Department of Justice says Google “systematically destroyed” messages and misled the agency about its actions.
US companies are required by law to keep copies of internal communications if there is any reasonable anticipation of upcoming litigation. In Google’s case, the DOJ argues in its filing that the company should have anticipated the government’s legal action against it as early as mid-2019, according to CNBC.
In spite of the DOJ’s belief that Google should have anticipated the current litigation, the company continued to delete its internal chats every 24 hours…right up to this month. Instead, the company left it up to individuals to decide whether they would keep or auto-delete their messages.
“Few, if any,” did, says the DOJ.
To make matters worse, the DOJ says the company repeatedly and “falsely” told the agency that it had ”‘put a legal hold in place’ that ‘suspends auto-deletion.’”
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As a result of the DOJ’s claims, Judge James Donato indicated at the end of January that he would consider an adverse jury instruction, although he would be open to allowing the jury to arrive at their own conclusions regarding the implications of Google’s actions.
Eileen Scallen, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, told CNBC that an adverse jury instruction would be “very damning.”
“The one person the jury respects in a courtroom is the trial judge,” Scallen said. “And if the trial judge is telling them you can presume that this was bad news for Google, they’re going to take that to heart.”
In the meantime, Google is disputing the DOJ’s claims. A company spokesperson told CNBC that company officials “strongly refute the DOJ’s claims. Our teams have conscientiously worked for years to respond to inquiries and litigation. In fact, we have produced over 4 million documents in this case alone, and millions more to regulators around the world.”
Given the various antitrust investigations that have been building against the company for years, it is hard to fathom any halfway intelligent individual not anticipating possible litigation against the company. Google may well have dug its own grave on this one.