Case: Google Antitrust Suit

Law360, San Francisco (December 15, 2020, 10:36 PM EST) -- A California federal judge appointed Kaplan Fox and Bartlit Beck attorneys as co-lead interim counsel Tuesday in consumers' proposed antitrust class action accusing Google of unlawfully limiting competition by forcing Android users to use the Google Play app store and levying a supracompetitive fee on purchases.

U.S. District Judge James Donato took matters into his own hands during a Zoom hearing Tuesday after attorneys representing plaintiffs in the In re: Google Play Consumer Antitrust Litigation couldn't come to a consensus on their own regarding who should lead the consumers' consolidated litigation against the tech giant.

"I gather there is a little bit of friction," Judge Donato said, noting that while the attorneys' disagreements are "not out of control by any means," he doesn't typically get involved in deciding which attorneys will lead litigation.

Judge Donato thoughtfully peppered the attorneys seeking a lead role with questions about their personal experience working on class actions and antitrust cases, as well as their leadership techniques.

"I'm not appointing law firms, I'm appointing lawyers," Judge Donato said. "This is lead counsel, not lead law firm."

Judge Donato ultimately appointed Bartlit Beck LLP partner Karma M. Giulianelli and Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP partner Hae Sung Nam as co-lead counsel.

When asked what her secret to success is, Giulianelli told the judge that communication and using people's strengths is key, while Nam stressed the important role that respect plays in fostering a successful work environment.

Giulianelli's recent antitrust experience includes representing Sabre Holdings Corp. against consumer claims accusing the travel tech company of colluding with other airline ticket distribution giants to drive up fares.

Giulianelli told Law360 following Tuesday's hearing that she's "looking forward to working with a talented group of lawyers on one of today's most important antitrust cases for consumers."

Nam's antitrust experience includes representing indirect purchasers accusing Keurig Inc.of monopolizing the market for single-serve coffee packs. In September, Keurig agreed to pay $31 million to end those claims.

Nam told Law360 on Tuesday that she's "looking forward to working with a good group of attorneys."

The judge also appointed Elizabeth Pritzker, a founding partner of Pritzker Levine LLP, to serve as local liaison counsel, a role Judge Donato described as a "critical role in the case."

Pritzker has been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including representing college athletes challenging the NCAA's rules restricting education-related pay and benefits. Pritzker is also representing purchasers alleging Mylan Inc. violated antitrust laws by inflating EpiPen prices. That case is scheduled to go to trial in April 2021.

Judge Donato appointed to the steering committee Nanci Nishimura, a partner at Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Peggy J. Wedgworth, a partner at Milberg Phillips Grossman LLP and George Zelcs, a partner at Korein Tillery LLC.

Wedgworth told Law360 Tuesday, "I'm honored to be part of such an impressive leadership team, and look forward to representing consumers in this significant antitrust litigation."

Last week, Judge Donato appointed Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP, Hausfeld LLP and Sperling & Slater PC to co-lead a consolidated proposed class action Google brought by app developers.

Fortnite maker Epic Games kicked off the antitrust litigation for the developers in August, when it accused both Google and Apple of violating antitrust law through a 30% commission charged for paid apps on their respective smartphones.

Days later, Bartlit Beck and Korein Tillery filed a proposed class action led by Illinois consumer Mary Carr, who made purchases through the Google Play store and Google's in-app purchasing program. Carr claims Google is trying to eliminate consumer choice and foreclose competition in mobile app distribution.

In October, Milberg and Pritzker Levine each filed similar suits on behalf of consumers. The complaint backed by Milberg has been consolidated with Carr's case, while the one backed by Pritzker and other similar suits, referred to as "tag along" complaints, were added as related actions.

While Korein Tillery and Bartlit Beck told Judge Donato in court filings in October that they had reached an agreement with Milberg and Pritzker Levine regarding each firm's role in the litigation, counsel backing the tag-along complaints didn't agree with their arrangement.

Neither did Judge Donato, who named Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP's Hae Sung Nam to lead alongside Bartlit Beck, instead of Korein Tiller's attorney.

Google is separately facing a landmark action by the U.S. Department of Justice, which California joined last week, accusing it of stifling competition in order to maintain its monopoly position in search and search advertising markets.

The consumers are represented by Karma M. Giulianelli of Bartlit Beck LLP and Hae Sung Nam of Kaplan Fox LLP. Liaison counsel is Elizabeth Pritzker of Pritzker Levine LLP. The steering committee also includes Nanci Nishimura of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy LLP, Peggy J. Wedgworth of Milberg Phillips Grossman LLP and George Zelcs of Korein Tillery LLC.

Google is represented by Brian C. Rocca of Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

The cases are Carr v. Google LLC et al., case number 5:20-cv-05761, and Bentley et al. v. Google LLC et al., case number 3:20-cv-07079, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

--Additional reporting by Hailey Konnath and Dave Simpson. Editing by Jay Jackson Jr.