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DOJ says Google improperly invoked legal privilege to shield communications

The Google logo is seen against a dark background
Associated Press/Michel Euler, file
The logo of Google is displayed on a carpet at the entrance hall of Google France in Paris, Nov. 18, 2019. 

Google trained employees to “camouflage” business documents to shield them from discovery, the Department of Justice (DOJ) alleged in a brief filed Monday.

The company’s “Communicate with Care” training allegedly told employees to routinely copy lawyers on emails and mark documents as privileged, making it difficult for prosecutors to determine what can be withheld under attorney-client privilege.

“Google has explicitly and repeatedly instructed its employees to shield important business communications from discovery by using false requests for legal advice,” DOJ attorneys wrote, asking U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta to sanction Google and compel the disclosure of more documents.

They argued the training was a “misuse” of attorney-client privilege and constituted misconduct.

The alleged misconduct “continued unabated after the company was on notice” of the DOJ’s antitrust investigation into Google over dominance in the search market, they said.

A Google spokesperson called the allegation that the company intentionally tried to complicate discovery “flatly wrong.”

“Just like other American companies, we educate our employees about legal privilege and when to seek legal advice,” they continued. “And we have produced over four million documents to the DOJ in this case alone — including many that employees had considered potentially privileged.”

The DOJ cited multiple alleged examples of the practice in its brief, including Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai copying Google’s chief legal officer Kent Walker on an email to YouTube head Susan Wojcicki about how to respond to a press request, with “Attorney Client Privileged” at the top.

Mehta will hold a hearing on April 8 to determine whether Google improperly shielded documents from the reach of prosecutors.

Tags antitrust investigation Attorney–client privilege Department of Justice DOJ Google Sundar Pichai

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