Google Will Not Face Jury In US Adtech Trial

Google’s upcoming US trial over online advertising technology competition is to be decided by a judge rather than a jury, in a blow to Justice Department prosecutors, after a federal judge ruled that a $2.3 million (£1.8m) payment by Google resolved the issue of monetary damages in the government’s case.

The government had sought a jury trial, and because non-monetary demands are heard directly by judges in antitrust cases, had argued that federal agencies were overcharged when buying online ads as a result of Google’s anticompetitive conduct.

The figure named was relatively small, at less than $750,000, and so Google made a payment to the government covering the amount as well as the trebled damages allowed for in antitrust cases.

Google then argued that the payment nullified any government claim of monetary damages and that a jury trial was therefore not called for.

Non-jury trial

At a hearing in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday the Justice Department argued the payment was insufficient to void the claim for damages.

US District Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled in favour of Google, saying the payment covered the highest possible amount the government sought in its initial filings and comparing the unconditional payment to “receiving a wheelbarrow of cash”.

Google said in a statement it was “glad” the case would be tried by a judge.

The company previously said it would have been the first-ever jury trial of a Justice Department civil antitrust lawsuit.

The Justice Department told Brinkema last month that Google had “fought hard to keep its anticompetitive conduct shielded from public view”.

The DOJ and eight states attorney general sued Google last year, arguing its conduct in the adtech business was anticompetitive.

In April Google attempted to have the case dismissed, arguing it was “doomed” because the business acts it attacks “are lawful choices about whom to do business with and product improvements that benefited Google’s customers”.

Legal challenges

In contrast to the low monetary damages, the government is seeking to break up Google’s online advertising business to allow more competition.

Brinkema scheduled the non-jury trial for 9 September.

Google faces a separate trial in the UK in which online publishers are seeking up to £13.6bn in damages over the company’s allegedly anticompetitive adtech practices, following a ruling by the Competition Appeals Tribunal last week.

The company is also in the midst of a competition lawsuit in the District of Columbia over its search engine business, in which a judge has heard closing arguments but has not yet issued a verdict.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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