Friday, June 17, 2011
NACDL's 1st Annual West Coast White Collar Conference, “Turning The Tables On The Government” – “Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide: Antitrust Defense in the Age of Amnesty Agreements & Corporate Self-Reporting,” Friday, June 17, 2011
Guest Blogger: Darin Thompson, Assistant Federal Public Defender, Office of the Federal Public Defender (Cleveland,OH)
The morning of day two of the seminar concluded with a panel discussion of the current issues facing antitrust defense practitioners. The panel consisted of Richard H. Deane, Jr., David Gerger, Eric Grannon, Christine Levin, and Jessica K. Nall.
Ms. Levin began by referencing the concerns expressed yesterday regarding the trend towards cooperation by corporate counsel. She indicated this has been driven, in part, by the Anti-trust Division’s amnesty program and DOJ’s aggressive marketing thereof. She reviewed the requirements of eligibility for the amnesty program: first to approach DOJ; prompt and effective action to terminate the wrongful conduct; full, continuing and complete cooperation; it must be “a true corporate act”; restitution must be made if possible; the company cannot have been the architect of the scheme, and cannot have coerced the others.
The benefits of the amnesty program include: the company receives complete protection from fines; no jail or fines for employees; no joint and several liability exposure in the subsequent civil actions; and no treble damages. Potential pitfalls include the following: the agreement only binds the Antitrust Division; a failed application, which can result in a prosecution using the information provided during the application process; “Amnesty Plus”, a program giving a break to companies which are not first in reporting to DOJ if the company reports additional violations, but which can lead to new grand jury investigations; and the use of amnesty as an anticompetitive tool, i.e., a way to cause headaches or worse for a company’s competition.
Mr. Gergen noted pending litigation in which the government has asserted that an employee may not seek to enforce the amnesty agreement.
To facilitate discussion of these problems and how they apply in real-world settings, the panel reviewed a number of cases in which a successful defense was mounted against leniency application prosecution.
Mr. Deane compared antitrust defense to white collar defense generally. He analogized the amnesty program to “proffering” in other white collar cases, noting the differences – particularly as it results in tension between the goals of corporate counsel and the interests of the individuals involved, and the potential conflict between such goals and a joint defense agreement.
Ms. Nall discussed endgame negotiation strategies. She noted that positioning a client is very fact-specific, but some general principles do apply. For example, cooperation is always viewed favorably by the government. She cautioned that DOJ views with great disfavor the argument that a defendant should be treated with leniency because the defendant is foreign and doesn’t understand or isn’t familiar with American antitrust laws. Legal arguments (regarding jurisdiction, for example) may also be strong bargaining chips. Mr. Grannon suggested jurisdiction may provide a defense at trial as well.
Mr. Grannon also discussed the decision making process involved in evaluating a plea offer. These decisions often take place after a company has received amnesty, your client’s company has pled guilty, and your client has been left as a “carve-out.” Mr. Grannon presented data on sentences for defendants, comparing different kinds of defendants and providing examples from specific cases. He noted that DOJ indicates that “no jail” pleas are no longer an option. He noted one particularly troubling DOJ strategy as follows: DOJ has a Memorandum of Understanding with Immigration, indicating that Sherman Act violations are crimes of moral turpitude – which results in deportation and exclusion for 15 years. This agreement exists despite a strong argument that it is not a crime of moral turpitude as that term is commonly defined. DOJ will use this threat as a bargaining chip, agreeing to waive the application of the Memorandum of Understanding it has with Immigration in exchange for a plea of guilty.