Judge rules Google will not face jury trial in US digital ads case

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By Mike Scarcella

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Alphabet's Google will not face a jury trial over its alleged digital advertising dominance after the company paid $2.3 million to cover the U.S. government's claim of monetary damages, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

Because non-monetary demands are heard by judges directly in antitrust cases, Google's payment means that it avoids a jury trial. The company had said it would have been the first-ever jury trial in a civil antitrust case lodged by the U.S. Justice Department.

The Justice Department and a coalition of states sued the tech giant last year, claiming it was unlawfully monopolizing digital advertising and overcharging users. The lawsuit seeks primarily to break up Google's digital advertising business to allow for more competition.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in Alexandria, Virginia, made the ruling on Friday and scheduled the non-jury trial for Sept. 9, when she will hear arguments to decide the case directly.

Google has denied wrongdoing and said it was not admitting liability by submitting a damages payment. "DOJ’s contrived damages claim has disintegrated," the company said in statement on Friday, calling the case a "meritless attempt to pick winners and losers in a highly competitive industry."

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

Google said last month the government, which had initially claimed more than $100 million in damages, requested less than $1 million in damages. Google's $2.3 million payment accounts for interest and for the potential for damages to be tripled under U.S. antitrust law.

Google had accused the federal government of manufacturing its monetary damages claim in order to ensure a jury trial.

The Justice Department responded that it was open to resolving the money damages part of its case, but only if Google cut a larger check.

"Google has fought hard to keep its anticompetitive conduct shielded from public view," the government told Brinkema last month.

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella; Editing by David Bario, Alexander Smith and Leslie Adler)