Meet the lawyers behind the U.S. versus Google antitrust showdown

Jan Wolfe
·4-min read
A Google sign is pictured on a Google building
A Google sign is pictured on a Google building

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Justice Department and 11 states have filed an antitrust lawsuit accusing Alphabet Inc's <GOOGL.O> Google of maintaining an illegal monopoly over internet search and search advertising.

Here are some of the lawyers handling the landmark case, which could remake one of the most recognizable U.S. companies.

RYAN SHORES

Shores joined the Justice Department last year to spearhead the Google investigation. He is working closely with Jeffrey Rosen, the second-in-command at the department behind Attorney General Bill Barr.

Shores has spent his career at elite law firms, most recently Shearman & Sterling, where he defended corporations like Bank of America Corp <BAC.N> and the oil company Equinor <EQNR.N> against antitrust claims.

Shores grew up in the Florida Panhandle, attended Huntingdon College in Alabama, and graduated at the top of his class from the University of Virginia School of Law.

After law school he clerked for Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, an influential conservative who died in 2005.

Lawyers close to Shores said much of his work happens outside the courtroom: advising companies on investigations and negotiating with regulators to get transactions approved.

Shores' background as primarily a corporate defense lawyer makes him an odd pick to lead an antitrust case against Google, said David Balto, a former Justice Department antitrust lawyer who has done consulting work for Google.

David Boies, the famed litigator who tried the U.S. government's antitrust case against Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O>, had significant plaintiff-side experience before taking that case, Balto noted.

"Switching sides is going to be a difficult task," Balto said. "He does not have the background that would naturally lend itself to this case."

David Higbee, a friend and former law partner of Shores, said Shores was a skilled lawyer and up for the task.

"I don't think he took the case with any agenda," Higbee added. "I don't think of him as a partisan."

KENT WALKER

Walker joined Google as an in-house lawyer in 2006 and has steadily expanded his portfolio while keeping a relatively low profile.

Walker took control of Google's legal affairs as part of the 2015 reorganization that created a new parent company, Alphabet.

In 2018, Google promoted Walker from general counsel to senior vice president for global affairs, overseeing legal affairs, public policy and corporate philanthropy.

Walker has some courtroom experience, thanks to a five-year stint as a federal prosecutor early in his career in which he won the first federal criminal copyright infringement case.

He worked at companies including Netscape Communications Corp and eBay Inc <EBAY.O> before joining Google.

Silicon Valley attorneys see Walker as an important voice on big-picture ethical issues facing the technology industry, said Doug Melamed, a former in-house lawyer at Intel Corp <INTC.O>.

"He's as good as they come," said Melamed, now a professor at Stanford Law School.

Walker will likely lead a team of outside lawyers and direct Google's legal strategy and any potential settlement.

While Walker did not lead Google's antitrust settlement with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission in 2013, he oversaw a later settlement with European Union regulators.

JOHN SCHMIDTLEIN

Leading the defense for Google will be John Schmidtlein, an experienced antitrust litigator at the Washington law firm Williams & Connolly.

Many antitrust lawyers focus on advising companies on how to get mergers approved by regulators, but Schmidtlein has built a practice around defending clients in high-stakes litigation.

Schmidtlein is deeply familiar with Google's business, having successfully defended it against a class action over its Android smartphone operating system in 2014. That lawsuit accused Google of unlawfully forcing handset makers using Android to make Google's own applications the default option.

SUSAN CREIGHTON

Google has also tapped longtime adviser Susan Creighton, a partner at the company's go-to law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. She served as lead outside counsel to Google in the earlier FTC investigation.

Creighton is known for playing a role in the landmark Microsoft antitrust case. In 1996, while in private practice, Creighton wrote a lengthy memo on behalf of Netscape that laid out how Microsoft was dominating the personal computer software industry. The white paper is credited with prompting the Justice Department to open its investigation.

In the early 2000s, after the Microsoft case, Creighton joined the FTC, where she spearheaded antitrust enforcement.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe and Diane Bartz in Washington; Editing by Richard Chang and Matthew Lewis)