John R. Wilke at the WSJ reports today that the US Department of Justice has retained top rank litigator Sanford Litvack to help them determine whether there are grounds for antitrust action against Google:
The Justice Department has quietly hired one of the nation’s best-known litigators, former Walt Disney Co. vice chairman Sanford Litvack, for a possible antitrust challenge to Google Inc.’s growing power in advertising.
Mr. Litvack’s hiring is the strongest signal yet that the U.S. is preparing to take court action against Google and its search-advertising deal with Yahoo Inc. The two companies combined would account for more than 80% of U.S. online-search ads.
For weeks, U.S. lawyers have been deposing witnesses and issuing subpoenas for documents to support a challenge to the deal, lawyers close to the review said. Such efforts don’t always mean a case will be brought, however.
Mr. Litvack, who was the Justice Department antitrust chief under President Jimmy Carter, has been asked to examine the evidence gathered so far and to build a case if the decision is made to proceed, the lawyers close to the review said.
It isn’t clear whether a U.S. challenge would target the Google-Yahoo deal alone or take on broader aspects of Google’s conduct in the growing online-advertising business.
And the last part is the rub of course, since overturning the Google-Yahoo deal (which Microsoft has vociferously opposed) would only really hurt Yahoo, while an investigation of abuses of Google’s dominant market position could result in a world of hurt for them and renewed life for Microsoft’s online advertising ambitions.