Judge deciding Google’s fate in Epic case is antitrust veteran

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(Reuters) – The judge who could rewrite the future of Google’s app business is a competition law expert who once defended technology companies and other defendants in antitrust cases.


U.S. District Judge James Donato in San Francisco will decide what changes to impose on Alphabet’s Google Play store, after a jury on Monday agreed with “Fortnite” maker Epic Games that Google illegally barred competing Android app stores and forced developers to use its payment system for in-app transactions.

Donato, a 2014 Obama appointee, will consider arguments from both sides next month, when Epic is expected to propose ways to undo Google’s alleged monopoly.

Donato said near the end of the month-long trial that there was “more than enough evidence” for jurors to rule for Epic.

Google has denied wrongdoing and said it will appeal the verdict. Donato’s decision on Google’s penalties also will likely be tied up in appeals.

Donato declined an interview request through a court representative.

Before his appointment as a judge, Donato, 63, was an antitrust specialist at corporate law firms Shearman & Sterling and Cooley.

Many of his clients were technology companies and medical device manufacturers, including chipmaker Nvidia and Tyco Healthcare, now Covidien.

In one case, Donato was a lead lawyer for United Airlines in an unsuccessful private lawsuit challenging the company’s $8.5 billion merger in 2010 with Continental.

He represented the airline alongside fellow antitrust lawyer Katherine Forrest, who went on to be one of Epic’s attorneys in the Google case until she switched law firms in January.


The Epic case also reunited Donato with a former Stanford Law School classmate: Google’s president of global affairs Kent Walker.

Donato grilled Walker during the trial over Google’s deletion of internal chat logs, which the jury was later told would have aided Epic’s case. Google has said it took “robust steps to preserve relevant chats.”

The judge later called Google’s conduct surrounding the chat logs “the most serious and disturbing evidence I have ever seen in my decade on the bench.”

Donato has had blunt words for both defendants and plaintiffs before.

He once questioned what he called “sweetheart” corporate settlements in a price-fixing prosecution. In 2021, he refused to approve a $650 million Facebook consumer privacy settlement until lawyers in the case proposed better ways to alert potential beneficiaries.

This year he castigated plaintiffs attorneys who had clashed in an antitrust case against Facebook, threatening to appoint new leaders for the case.

Donato will next weigh in on Epic’s fight with Google at a Jan. 11 hearing, when the two sides are slated to discuss next steps in the case.

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella; Editing by David Bario and Daniel Wallis)

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