WASHINGTON Sharis Pozen, the top deputy to the Justice Department's antitrust chief, will become acting head of the division when Christine Varney leaves on Friday, the agency said on Thursday.
It is unclear when President Barack Obama will nominate a permanent head for the antitrust division, which reviews mergers to ensure they comply with antitrust law. It also prosecutes price-fixing, among other competition matters.
In a surprise announcement, Varney said in early July that she would join the law firm Cravath, Swaine and Moore.
Pozen, Varney's chief of staff, has a similar background to her boss, and will likely provide continuity as the agency continues big merger reviews like AT&T Inc's $39 billion plan to buy Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile USA unit.
"Sharis has been actively engaged in all significant antitrust matters before the division, and her appointment will ensure that the decision-making on pending antitrust matters is seamless," Attorney General Eric Holder said in naming her as acting assistant attorney general for antitrust.
Like Varney, Pozen came from the law firm now known as Hogan Lovells. And like Varney, Pozen has worked at the Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust enforcement responsibility with the Justice Department.
Pozen began her legal career as an FTC staff attorney in 1989 and rose to became an attorney advisor to Varney, who was then an FTC commissioner.
One of the people being mentioned as a possible permanent replacement is Bill Baer, who heads the antitrust group at the law firm Arnold and Porter and is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans in the Washington antitrust legal community.
Another potential front-runner is Leslie Overton, a former antitrust partner at Jones Day, who has recently returned to the Justice Department.
Overton, whose husband is a political appointee at the Justice Department, was named one of the best lawyers under age 40 in 2010 by the National Bar Association, a predominantly African-American group.
Because the position requires Senate confirmation, Seth Bloom, who could be rather easily confirmed, is also a possibility. Bloom is general counsel of the Senate Judiciary Committee's antitrust subcommittee, which is headed by retiring Democratic Senator Herb Kohl.
Other names mentioned are David Turetsky, a veteran of the department now at the law firm Dewey and LeBoeuf; Edith Ramirez, an FTC commissioner who went to law school with Obama; and Harvard Law School professor Einer Elhauge, who was a possible pick before Varney was named.
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)