Hiring of Antitrust Litigator Doesn't Signal Google Antitrust Suit, FTC Says


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In spite of the red sky Google might be seeing these mornings, the company doesn't necessarily need to batten down the hatches of its ships just yet, according to Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz.

That red sky Google's been cautious about goes by the name of Beth Wilkinson, a high-profile litigator who's made quite the name for herself as in the legal field. Previously, she successfully argued the death penalty for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and has worked as a partner in the New York City-based firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.

Wilkinson's hiring at the FTC was widely regarded as a signal that the agency was preparing to pursue an antitrust case against Google, but today at the D: All Things Digital conference Leibowitz dismissed any certitude to those speculations. "It doesn’t mean we’re going to make a case at all," he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. "Maybe it sends a signal, but more importantly it ensures we have a really terrific litigator, if we need one."

When the FTC brought on Wilkinson, the agency said that it was merely to invite a new set of eyes to look over Google's business practices. However, veterans in this field of antitrust litigation have opined that the antitrust authorities don't typically hire that type of legal muscle unless there's some serious plans to bring a case against a company.

Still, Leibowitz maintains that there are no plans to file an antitrust suit against Google, insisting that the hire was merely an acquisition of talent. “When you have the opportunity to get someone of Beth’s stature and abilities, you would always want to take her up on it,” he said.

Alternately, according to a quote from All Things D, Leibowitz also said of Wilkinson's hiring, "It just means that we have very competent counsel that can go toe to toe with their very competent counsel." Contrasted with the above statement, this one from Leibowitz seems more portentous, as if the FTC hasn't completely ruled out the possibility of a Google antitrust suit in the future.

So is she just on a retainer at this point, an authoritative counsel, or should Google continue to watch for those scarlet-skied mornings?