According to the US Justice Department, Google is accused of abusing attorney-client privilege to conceal documents.
The US Department of Justice has accused Google of instructing its workers on how to protect business correspondence from being discovered in legal disputes.
The Justice Department requested that Google be sanctioned for implementing a "Communicate with Care" program that instructs employees to add an attorney and a request for guidance when writing about sensitive business concerns in a court filing.
Google has been accused by the US Department of Justice of instructing its workers on how to protect business correspondence from discovery in court disputes "by making fraudulent requests for legal guidance." According to Axios, the Department of Justice has informed the judge about hearing its antitrust lawsuit against Google. Workers are instructed to include in-house attorneys in written communication, attach attorney-client privilege labels to them, and obtain legal advice even when it isn't required. The government now requests that the judge punish the corporation "for its extensive and purposeful efforts to use the attorney-client privilege to conceal business papers important to the case."
According to the presentation slides provided in the DOJ's brief, Google particularly encouraged those teams to adopt the practice for any written correspondence involving revenue-sharing agreements and mobile application distribution agreements. In its headtopics.com 2020 antitrust case, the Department of Justice accused Google of having an unfair search and search-related advertising monopoly. It also questioned its rules, which require Android device makers to pre-load Google apps and establish Google as the default search engine.
Thousands of Google documents contain phrases like "adding legal" or "adding [attorney] for legal advise," according to the DOJ. These emails appear devoid of any specific advice request, and attorneys seldom react to them. The technique "pervades the whole firm," according to the brief, and is even utilized by Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai.
The Department of Justice is now requesting that the court declare Google's actions sanctionable and order it to produce "all withheld or redacted emails where no attorney responded to the purported request for legal advice." In a statement to Axios, Google spokesperson Julie Tarallo McAlister defended the company, calling the allegations "flatly false."
McAlister said: "Our teams have conscientiously worked for years to respond to inquiries and litigation, and suggestions to the contrary are flatly wrong. Like other American companies, we educate our employees about legal privilege and when to seek legal advice. And we have produced over four million documents to the DOJ in this case alone — including many that employees had considered potentially privileged."
If the in-house counsel does not respond, the Justice Department has requested that the records be produced. It asked for a hearing before US District Judge Amit Mehta to consider the case.
The lawsuit was filed by the Justice Department in 2020, with a trial scheduled for September 2023.