Amazon has deep bench of defense lawyers to fight US FTC lawsuit

FILE PHOTO: Amazon and Rivian unveil their final custom Electric Delivery Vehicles (EDV) in Chicago

By Andrew Goudsward and Mike Scarcella

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s monopoly lawsuit against filed on Tuesday poses perhaps the biggest legal test so far for the platoons of lawyers who have defended the technology giant for years against allegations of antitrust and consumer protection violations.

The long-awaited FTC case against Amazon, joined by 17 state attorneys general, accuses the company of abusing its dominance as an online retailer to thwart competitors and harm sellers and customers that rely on its platform. The company vowed to fight the lawsuit, saying its practices have spurred competition and innovation.

Kevin Hodges, a partner at law firm Williams & Connolly, was the first member of Amazon's defense team identified in a court document in the case. His partner Heidi Hubbard will lead the team, which also includes attorneys from law firm Covington & Burling, according to a person familiar with the hires.

Hubbard and Hodges, who is a former managing partner of the Washington-headquartered firm, are also representing Amazon in an ongoing antitrust lawsuit by California's attorney general accusing the company of forcing artificially high prices on consumers.

Williams & Connolly, known for its focus on litigation, in April successfully defeated a separate private lawsuit accusing the company of curbing competition for shipping and fulfillment services.

Hodges represented state attorneys general who joined the U.S. Justice Department's historic antitrust case against Microsoft in the 1990s and defended BP in lawsuits following the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, according to court records and his firm's website. He did not respond to a request for comment.

Williams & Connolly is also a lead defense firm in another major antitrust case targeting Big Tech. Partner John Schmidtlein heads a team comprised of several big law firms defending Alphabet's Google in an ongoing landmark trial over the company’s alleged monopoly power in online search.

An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about its legal team. The company is likely to rely on multiple law firms to defend the FTC case.

Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky, a 24-year veteran of the company's legal department, can turn to a stable of top outside law firms that already represent it.

Covington & Burling, another major Washington firm, worked with Williams & Connolly in 2021 in an unsuccessful attempt to force FTC Chair Lina Khan, a vocal critic of Amazon, to recuse from matters involving the company. Thomas Barnett, co-chair of the firm’s antitrust practice and a former senior Justice Department official, was involved in the effort.

Covington is also representing Amazon in another pending lawsuit brought by the FTC accusing the company of enrolling customers into its paid Amazon Prime service without their consent and making it difficult for them to cancel. The company has denied the allegations.

Covington advised Amazon in two consumer privacy settlements with the FTC in May related to the company’s Alexa voice assistant and Ring home security service.

A Covington spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment on whether the firm is defending Amazon in the FTC antitrust case.

Amazon has also turned to U.S. law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison to navigate government scrutiny. Paul Weiss secured the dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit brought by Washington, D.C.’s attorney general. An appeal remains pending.

The firm joined Covington in negotiating a $25 million Alexa child privacy settlement with the FTC.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward and Mike Scarcella in Washington; Editing by David Bario, Matthew Lewis and Marguerita Choy)