The New York Times reports that the Federal Trade Commission said today it had hired outside counsel to proceed with an antitrust investigation of Google.
The news was a sign that the inquiry had progressed out of the preliminary stages, the newspaper said.
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Reuters reports that FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz told reporters in San Francisco today that the regulatory agency had hired Beth Wilkinson of the firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, who is to start work on Monday.
According to The San Jose Mercury News, Wilkinson, an Army veteran, has a reputation as a tough litigator. As a federal prosecutor, she obtained the death penalty for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was put to death in 2001.
The Times said a Google spokeswoman had no immediate comment. The FTC has been investigating Google’s dominance of the search market for potential antitrust violations for more than a year.
The newspaper said that the hiring of Wilkinson did not necessarily mean the agency would sue Google.
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But The Mercury News quoted San Francisco antitrust lawyer Samuel Miller as saying Wilkinson’s appointment meant the agency was “quite serious about bringing a case against Google.”
"The antitrust authorities don't bring in outside counsel unless they are very serious about bringing a case,” he was quoted as saying.
The Times said the decision marked the first time in five years that the agency had hired an outside litigator for a major case.