Google hires former DOJ employees to bolster legal team as it faces antitrust cases

Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has been increasing its legal team with former employees of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as it faces two separate antitrust lawsuits from the agency. The company has hired four former DOJ officials into regulatory roles since 2021, according to public information and social media profiles. In addition, Alphabet uses four outside counsel firms that are loaded with nearly 20 former DOJ officials, many of whom worked in the antitrust division at various times.

This hiring for its internal regulatory team is a reflection of the intense scrutiny Google is facing from governments around the world. It can be a signal that a company anticipates dealing with regulatory challenges in years to come, even if it doesn’t know exactly what form it’ll take yet, according to two former government officials.

Bill Kovacic, a former Federal Trade Commission chair who now teaches antitrust law at George Washington University, said, “When companies find themselves under intense scrutiny from regulatory authorities, antitrust law, or otherwise, they make moves like this.”

Google is currently facing two antitrust challenges from the DOJ, both to its search and ad tech businesses, and additional challenges from a slew of state attorneys general. Regulators around the world, including in Europe and Australia, have also presented policy and enforcement hurdles.

According to Doug Melamed, a former acting assistant attorney general at the DOJ antitrust division who’s now a scholar-in-residence at Stanford Law School, the added threat of new legislation targeting Google’s business, and that of other tech firms, looms. In the near term, it appears that a massive lobbying campaign by the industry has successfully delayed the most disruptive reforms. But the possibility of renewed energy around that legislation still hangs over the industry, and a company like Google “can take nothing for granted now,” Kovacic said, adding that’s likely a reason for the company to build out its regulatory forces.

“New entrants and new innovations are driving competition and delivering value for America’s consumers, publishers, and merchants,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement for this story. “We’re proud of our services and we look forward to making our case in court.”

Alphabet now has at least five former DOJ staffers on its legal team, including Google’s director of competition, Kevin Yingling, who’s been with the company for more than a decade and worked as a trial attorney at the Department of Justice from 2000 to 2005, according to his LinkedIn. The company hired Kate Smith as counsel for Alphabet’s regulatory response, investigations and strategy unit in February 2021, according to LinkedIn. Smith was a trial attorney in the DOJ’s civil frauds division from September 2015 until January 2021.

In May 2022, according to LinkedIn, Alphabet hired Mike Kass, a former trial attorney in the DOJ’s civil fraud section, as its regulatory and litigation counsel for products. A month later, the company hired Seema Mittal Roper as counsel on its regulatory response team. Mittal Roper worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for the DOJ in Maryland from 2013 to 2018, according to LinkedIn. Most recently, the company hired Jack Mellyn as strategy counsel on its regulatory team. Mellyn was previously an attorney advisor and then acting assistant chief in the DOJ’s competition policy and advocacy section, according to a previously available social media profile.

It’s not clear which employees are working on the specific matters before the DOJ, and Kass’ role appears focused outside of antitrust. It’s likely these employees never worked on Google-related matters they’re dealing with now during their time in government, given their dates and areas of previous employment, as well as federal ethics rules that bar certain conflicts.