DoubleClick Law Firm Accused Of Concealing Involvement In Merger

Privacy advocates opposing the Google-DoubleClick merger alleged yesterday that the law firm Jones Day purged its Web site of references to its client DoubleClick shortly after the advocate groups asked FTC chair Deborah Platt Majoras to recuse herself from considering the merger.

On Wednesday, the Center for Digital Democracy and Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a petition asking Majoras to recuse herself from proceedings involving the $3.1 billion merger because her husband, John Majoras, is a partner in Jones Day. The merger has been pending pending before the FTC for eight months.

On Thursday, in another letter sent to the FTC, the advocacy groups spelled out the Jones Day site allegations and maintained that one conclusion that could be drawn from the alleged sequence of events is that "Jones Day has sought to conceal the nature, scope, and duration of the relationship with its client DoubleClick by altering web pages on the firm's web site."

A Jones Day spokesperson did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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An FTC spokesperson said the agency only learned of Jones Day's representation of DoubleClick this week, and was consulting with its chief ethics officer. The spokesperson also said that Jones Day had not appeared before the agency in connection with the merger.

Majoras told OnlineMediaDaily that he has not done any work on the merger.

A DoubleClick spokesperson said in an emailed statement that Jones Day has not represented the company before the FTC. "Jones Day has been engaged primarily with respect to European and other non-U.S. jurisdictions," the spokesperson stated. "Jones Day was not engaged to represent, and has not represented DoubleClick before the Federal Trade Commission or appeared before the Commission on DoubleClick's behalf."

Legal ethics expert Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University Law School, maintains that there's no question that Deborah Platt Majoras should recuse herself, regardless of whether Jones Day appeared before the FTC in the matter. John Majoras "stands to gain from the success of Jones Day, especially in a high-profile case like this and, therefore, her decision can affect his interest and therefore her interest," Gillers said.

The privacy groups alleged in their recusal petition that John Majoras is an equity partner at the firm, meaning that he shares in profits. Jones Day's Web site states that he is a "partner" in charge of business development in Washington and also a member of the firm's business development committee, but doesn't specify whether he is an equity partner or a non-equity partner who receives a salary.

Regardless of John Majoras' current status at Jones Day, Gillers contends that Deborah Platt Majoras has a conflict of interest because, even as a non-equity partner, her husband would stand to gain from the firm's success in the form of higher compensation and bonuses.

On Thursday, financial services firm Stifel Nicolaus issued a report that stated that even if Deborah Platt Majoras removes herself from the decision, the FTC is still likely to approve the deal because at least two of the other four commissioners appear to support it.

"Probably the worst outcome for Google, in our view, would be a split FTC vote with strongly worded dissents from some commissioners," the report said. "There might be an incentive on all sides to broker a consent decree containing some conditions that at least three commissioners and Google would agree to."

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