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US judge blasted for secrecy in Google antitrust case after presiding over Jan. 6 trials

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 public from hearing testimony deemed too sensitive during 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 both defendants’ personal lives to be aired — including unsealing Rhodes’ 2018 divorce filing from his wife, Tasha Adams, that revealed the extremist group leader’s troubled tendencies.

Judge Amit P. Mehta is solely responsible for deciding if Google has broken the law in its quest to maintain dominance. There won’t be a jury.

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 two organizations that filed a motion Thursday in DC federal court to make all exhibits about Google’s relationship with Apple as well as 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 let us know every detail about these individuals, but we can’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.

Conservative groups filed a motion Thursday in DC federal court to make all exhibits about Google’s relationship with Apple as well as top Apple executive Eddy Cue’s testimony publicly available. The motion was denied.
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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 understand how the law works. If the judge is making serious decisions on key points of the litigation, we should be able 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 any other litigate that’s going in front of this judge?”

The DOJ has accused Google of paying $10 billion annually to wireless carriers and smartphone makers to ensure that Google search is the default on their devices. The government argues Google has abused its monopoly in search and some aspects of search advertising.

Judge Mehta has pleaded ignorance in allowing Google’s lawyers to dictate when to kick media and the public out of his courtroom, looking for guidance from US prosecutors, according to reports.

Up until now, Mehta most notably presided over trials related to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot that included handing down an 18-year prison sentence to Stewart Rhodes for leading the Oath Keepers extremist group to attack the US Capitol.
Thayer bashed Mehta for allowing open courtrooms during his trials involving Jan. 6, but not involving Google — “a public company that handles all of our information,” the lawyer said.

“I’m relying largely on the plaintiffs, who represent the public interest, to let me know if you think it is objectionable to go into closed session,” Mehta said near the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, according to The Wall Street Journal.

“I am not anyone that understands the industry and the markets in the way that you do. And so I take seriously when companies 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” in the testimony, and thus isn’t sure whether witnesses will be discussing confidential business matters, per The Journal.

“His [Mehta’s] view that this question of sealed documents isn’t up to him and is up to the parties is absurd,” Thayer told The Post.

“That is primarily the judge’s call — whether or not to request to seal,” said Thayer, whose law firm, Thayer PLLC, focuses on antitrust matters.

Justice Department lawyer David Dahlquist affirmed that “at times, we have not objected to the closing when the third parties and Google have put that forward. We want to just state that for the public record.”

“The push for a lot of this sealed evidence is coming from Apple, Microsoft and DuckDuckGo because they aren’t being sued by the government so they don’t believe their information needs to be public,” a person familiar with the matter told The Post on Friday.

A spokesperson for DuckDuckGo ridiculed that assertion.

“It’s literally impossible for us to be the reason for ‘a lot 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 vast majority of the case is even about, we’re learning about it just like everyone else as it unfolds publicly.

The Justice Department has alleged that Google paid billions of dollars each year to smartphone makers like Apple and Samsung to make sure its search engine is pre-loaded as the default onto their web browsers.

Google, Apple and Microsoft did not respond to requests for comment.

Thayer suggested the government has not fought harder to keep testimony in open court because the federal agency is strapped for resources.

“There’s only six or seven DOJ officials working on this. They’re up against more than a few hundred lawyers on Google’s side,” he said.

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