The Obama-appointed federal judge overseeing the landmark antitrust case against Google is facing criticism for allowing the search giant to seal much of the testimony — a stark change from his open-courtroom policy when presiding over cases involving the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.
US District Judge Amit Mehta has submitted to demands by Google and executives for other tech titans — including Apple and Microsoft — to lock out the general public from hearing testimony deemed too sensitive in the course of the opening weeks of the trial.
Yet Judge Mehta took a far different approach before handing Oath Keeper leader Stewart Rhodes an 18-year prison sentence and slapping a second Oath Keeper defendant, Kelly Meggs, with a 12-year term.
During Rhodes’ and Meggs’ court proceedings, he permitted embarrassing details about each defendants’ personal lives to be aired — including unsealing Rhodes’ 2018 divorce filing from his wife, Tasha Adams, that exposed the extremist group leader’s troubled tendencies.
Judge Mehta, appointed to the federal bench by Barack Obama in 2014, also rejected former President Donald Trump’s bid to toss civil lawsuits alleging he incited the riot, and laid out the reasoning behind his decision in a 112-page ruling.
“This becomes hyper-political in my mind,” said Joel Thayer, an attorney for 2 organizations that filed a motion Thursday in DC federal court to make all exhibits about Google’s relationship with Apple in addition to top Apple executive Eddy Cue’s testimony publicly available.
Mehta denied Thayer’s motion on Friday.
“You’re willing to open the door to your courtroom on Jan. 6 and tell us every detail about these individuals, but we are able to’t know anything about Google — a public company that handles all of our information? Right on the cusp of a consequential election? It’s categorically absurd,” Thayer told The Post.
Specifically, Thayer slammed Judge Mehta for allowing Google to either entirely seal or heavily redact much of the evidence filed in its court docket.
“Public court documents allow folks to know how the law works. If the judge is making serious decisions on key points of the litigation, we should always give you the chance to know why,” said Thayer, who represents the conservative nonprofit groups the American Principles Project and the Center for Renewing America.
“How far does this go? Does this mean that Google has a superior right to privacy than another litigate that’s moving into front of this judge?”
The DOJ has accused Google of paying $10 billion annually to wireless carriers and smartphone makers to make sure that Google search is the default on their devices. The government argues Google has abused its monopoly in search and a few elements of search promoting.
Judge Mehta has pleaded ignorance in allowing Google’s lawyers to dictate when to kick media and the general public out of his courtroom, searching for guidance from US prosecutors, in line with reports.
“I’m relying largely on the plaintiffs, who represent the general public interest, to let me know in case you think it’s objectionable to enter closed session,” Mehta said near the tip of Tuesday’s proceedings, in line with The Wall Street Journal.
“I’m not anyone that understands the industry and the markets in the best way that you simply do. And so I take seriously when corporations are telling me that if this gets disclosed, it’s going to cause competitive harm.”
Judge Mehta has said he doesn’t “have a crystal ball to know what’s coming up” within the testimony, and thus isn’t sure whether witnesses shall be discussing confidential business matters, per The Journal.
“His [Mehta’s] view that this query of sealed documents isn’t as much as him and is as much as the parties is absurd,” Thayer told The Post.
“That is primarily the judge’s call — whether or to not request to seal,” said Thayer, whose law firm, Thayer PLLC, focuses on antitrust matters.
Justice Department lawyer David Dahlquist affirmed that “at times, we’ve not objected to the closing when the third parties and Google have put that forward. We want to only state that for the general public record.”
“The push for plenty of this sealed evidence is coming from Apple, Microsoft and DuckDuckGo because they aren’t being sued by the federal government so that they don’t consider their information must be public,” an individual conversant in the matter told The Post on Friday.
A spokesperson for DuckDuckGo ridiculed that assertion.
“It’s literally inconceivable for us to be the explanation for ‘plenty of the secrecy’ and what the source said doesn’t make factual sense,” the rep said. “We don’t have any special access to what the overwhelming majority of the case is even about, we’re learning about it similar to everyone else because it unfolds publicly.
Google, Apple and Microsoft didn’t reply to requests for comment.
Thayer suggested the federal government has not fought harder to maintain testimony in open court since the federal agency is strapped for resources.
“There’s only six or seven DOJ officials working on this. They’re up against greater than a number of hundred lawyers on Google’s side,” he said.