A lead attorney in the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) antitrust lawsuit against Intel can remain on the case despite having ties to an Intel rival, the administrative law judge overseeing the case ruled today.
Judge James Timony's order came in response to a motion filed last month by Intel asking to have Richard Parker, senior deputy director of the FTC's bureau of competition, disqualified from the case.
Intel's motion was filed under seal, but Timony's order reveals that Intel was concerned about ties between Parker's former lawfirm, O'Melveny & Myers LLP, and Intel rival Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). Parker represented AMD in litigation matters against Intel, and in November 1997 was involved in a civil investigation which eventually led to the FTC filing its lawsuit against Intel, according to Timony's order denying Parker's removal.
However, Timony rejected Intel's claim that Parker's involvement in the FTC case will affect the chip maker's right to a fair trial. Parker disclosed his ties with AMD to the FTC's designated ethics officer before participating in the FTC's case. His involvement was also approved by the Office of Government Ethics, Timony wrote.
Intel's motion also argued that since Parker joined the FTC the agency's investigation "has shifted gears" in an effort to adopt a theory advocated by AMD. Timony responded that the focus of the FTC case remains whether Intel illegally used its market power to bully Intergraph, Compaq Computer and Digital Equipment, and not whether it harmed AMD.
"Because Mr. Parker does not represent any interests that could call into question his loyalty to the public interest, no due process issues arise," Timony concluded.
Intel spokesman Chuck Mulloydeclined to discuss the company's effort to have Parker removed from the case, noting that Intel's motion was filed under seal. Mulloy also declined to comment on Timony's order, saying only that Intel does not plan to appeal it.
If Timony had granted Intel's motion it could have caused a major headache for the FTC just weeks before the case is due to come to trial on March 9.
One Washington antitrust attorney said he was not surprised by the judge's ruling. It is not uncommon for an attorney to prosecute a defendant on separate occasions on behalf of different plaintiffs, said the attorney, who asked not to be named.
"It's pretty clear that the government's going against Intel. It's not supposed to be in the position of a neutral arbitrator here," the attorney said.
In its lawsuit filed last June, the FTC says Intel illegally used its dominance in the chip market to coerce three firms -- Intergraph, Compaq and Digital Equipment -- into licensing semiconductor technology patents on Intel's terms. Intel did this, according to the FTC, by selectively withholding information about future products from the three firms.
Intel acknowledges withholding key information from the firms, but says it acted legally in order to protect its intellectual property. Intel further argues that it does not compete in the same markets as the three firms mentioned in the FTC lawsuit, so it cannot be accused of behaving anticompetitively in any relevant markets.