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Groups ask FTC chair to recuse in Google-DoubleClick review

Complaint cites conflicts resulting from FTC chairman's husband working on antitrust cases for law firm that advises DoubleClick.

Two privacy groups are asking the chairman of the Federal Trade Commission to recuse herself from the agency's review of Google's proposed acquisition of online ad firm DoubleClick because her husband's law firm is advising DoubleClick on antitrust.

In addition, FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras used to work at the law firm, called Jones Day, according to a complaint about the matter sent to the FTC on Wednesday by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy.

Majoras' husband, John M. Majoras, is an equity partner with Jones Day and is in charge of the firm's business development in the Washington, D.C., office.

"A reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts would question the chairman's impartiality in this matter" as a result of these facts, the complaint says.

The complaint also notes that Chairman Majoras has recused herself in antitrust matters before the FTC where Jones Day was involved, including in reviews of the Proctor & Gamble acquisition of Gillette, the merger of Valero Energy and Premcor, the Federated Department Stores acquisition of the May Department Stores Company, and Aventis. A press release for the P&G case says Chairman Majoras recused herself "because her former law firm, Jones Day, represented P&G before the Commission, and Majoras' husband remains an active partner with the firm."

An FTC spokesperson said late on Wednesday that the chairman was reviewing the petition with the FTC's chief ethics officer.

"We learned only yesterday that Jones Day is representing DoubleClick before the European Commission, not the (U.S.) Federal Trade Commission," said FTC spokeswoman Claudia Bourne Farrell. "Jones day has not appeared before the FTC on this matter."

However, that would seem to conflict with what the Jones Day Web site says:

"Jones Day is advising DoubleClick Inc., the digital marketing technology provider, on the international and U.S. antitrust and competition law aspects of its planned $3.1 billion acquisition by Google Inc."

Asked to comment on that, Bourne Farrell said that Jones Day may be "advising" DoubleClick on the issues, "but Jones Day has not appeared before the Federal Trade Commission in this matter."

The FTC deadline for its review was to have been December 13, but has been extended. Meanwhile, the European Commission has until April 2 to review the proposed merger.