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US Judge Faces Criticism for Secrecy in Google Antitrust Case

 |  October 1, 2023

US District Judge Amit Mehta, appointed by former President Barack Obama, is under scrutiny for allowing Google to keep much of the testimony in the landmark antitrust case against the tech giant sealed, according to a report by the New Yorker. This move stands in stark contrast to Judge Mehta’s open-courtroom approach during trials related to the January 6 Capitol riots, reported the New York Post.

During the trials of Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes and another defendant, Kelly Meggs, Judge Mehta permitted the disclosure of personal details from their lives, including unsealing Rhodes’ 2018 divorce filing. However, in the Google antitrust case, he acquiesced to Google’s and other tech executives’ requests to bar the public from sensitive testimony.

Conservative groups, represented by attorney Joel Thayer, filed a motion in a DC federal court to make all exhibits regarding Google’s association with Apple, along with top Apple executive Eddy Cue’s testimony, available to the public. Nevertheless, Judge Mehta rejected the motion, leading to criticism over the lack of transparency in the case.

Thayer questioned the judge’s decision, stating, “You were open about the details of these individuals on January 6, but we can’t access information about Google, a public company that handles our data? Especially so close to a significant election? It’s utterly nonsensical.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has accused Google of annually paying billions to wireless carriers and smartphone manufacturers, including Apple and Samsung, to ensure Google search is the default on their devices. The government alleges that Google has exploited its monopoly in search and search advertising.

Read more: Jude Rules Google Must Face DOJ Antitrust Suit Over Ad Tech

Judge Mehta has faced backlash for letting Google’s legal team decide when to exclude the media and the public from the courtroom. He has expressed ignorance and sought guidance from US prosecutors, raising concerns about his impartiality and the influence of powerful tech companies in keeping evidence sealed.

Thayer criticized Judge Mehta for permitting Google to seal or heavily redact a substantial portion of the evidence in the court docket, stressing the importance of public access to court documents in understanding the legal process. He questioned whether Google enjoys greater privacy rights compared to other litigants before the judge.

The secrecy surrounding the Google antitrust case has attracted attention, especially in light of Judge Mehta’s previous commitment to open courtrooms during Capitol riots trials. Critics argue that the lack of transparency erodes public trust and casts doubt on the judge’s handling of the case.

It is essential to note that the DOJ has alleged that Google paid billions annually to smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung to ensure its search engine is pre-loaded as the default on their web browsers.

Source: NY Post