WASHINGTON, April 18 (Reuters) - Three women lawyers at the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division are on the short list to fill a Democratic vacancy on the Federal Trade Commission, according to sources knowledgeable about the process.
The FTC normally has five commissioners and no more than three can be from the same party. The four incumbents include two Democrats and two Republicans.
The candidates are said to include Leslie Overton, formerly a partner at Jones Day and now a deputy assistant attorney general; Terrell McSweeny, formerly on Vice President Joe Biden's staff and now chief counsel for competition policy at the antitrust division; and Jamillia Ferris, formerly at Covington & Burling LLP and now the chief of staff at the antitrust division, the sources said.
Two sources also said that Melissa Maxman, from the law firm Cozen O'Connor, was also on the short list. Maxman, a litigator who has been at the firm four years, is a co-chair of Cozen O'Connor's Antitrust Practice Group.
The best known of the three and most likely pick appears to be Overton, who has reportedly been on the short list for previous top antitrust positions.
Overton, at the American Bar Association's spring antitrust meeting this month, brusquely rebutted suggestions that there were conflicts between President Barack Obama's health reform, which urges efficiency, and antitrust enforcement, which can reject mergers that would reduce competition.
The FTC's main mission is the promotion of consumer protection and the elimination and prevention of anti-competitive business practices.
The current vacancy was created when Edith Ramirez, a law school classmate of President Barack Obama, who was elevated to the chairmanship after the departure of Jon Leibowitz in February.
The commission's other Democrat is Julie Brill. Rounding out the group are Republicans Maureen Ohlhausen and Joshua Wright.
McSweeny, Maxman, Overton and Ferris either declined comment or did not return telephone calls seeking comment. The FTC did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.
The commission is in the process of considering several key mergers, including the proposed Office Depot Inc deal to buy rival OfficeMax Inc ; Tesoro Corp's purchase of a BP Plc refinery in gas-price sensitive California; and television ratings company Nielsen Holdings NV plan to buy Arbitron Inc, which dominates radio ratings.
In the case of a 2-2 vote, no action is taken on the FTC's various cases. This has created concern the commission could be deadlocked until a fifth member is appointed.
The agency also works on online privacy issues, which can pit companies against consumers and has tackled intellectual property issues, including the problem of companies with patent portfolios filing frivolous infringement lawsuits.
Obama will nominate the commissioner, but the position does require Senate confirmation.