Meet the Big Law alum leading the FTC's lawsuit against Facebook

Signage is seen at the Federal Trade Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020.
Signage is seen at the Federal Trade Commission headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
  • Daniel Matheson, deputy chief trial counsel, spent a decade at three big firms in Washington
  • Adversaries and former colleagues describe Matheson as a sharp litigator -- 'a wolf in wolf's clothing'

(Reuters) - Daniel Matheson, the lead trial lawyer in the Federal Trade Commission's lawsuit against Facebook Inc, spent more than a decade in Big Law at three firms before arriving in 2016 at the agency, where adversaries and former colleagues described him in interviews this week as a sharp and enthusiastic litigator.

Matheson, for his part, called himself a "faceless bureaucrat" in Washington, D.C., where he is the FTC's deputy chief trial counsel, during an antitrust panel discussion George Mason Law Review hosted earlier this year.

"That sounds like something the Dan I know would say about himself, whether it was true or not, and then he'd go back home and get back to work and do another 10 things in an hour and half," one of his former law professors, Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law School, told Reuters.

The FTC on Thursday filed a new complaint against Facebook alleging it "bought and buried" competitors to maintain monopoly power. U.S. District Judge James Boasberg in June dismissed an earlier FTC lawsuit after raising questions about how much control the company had in the personal social networking market.

Matheson declined to comment for this article.

A lawyer for Facebook, Mark Hansen of Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, did not return a message seeking comment. In a statement on Thursday, Facebook called the FTC's claims "an effort to rewrite antitrust laws."

From 2005 to 2016, Matheson was an associate in Washington at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, Axinn Veltrop & Harkrider and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He was on the Gibson Dunn team in 2015 representing Aetna Inc. in an antitrust action against Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. A confidential settlement ended the case.

One of his former Wilmer colleagues, antitrust partner Leon Greenfield, said Matheson "was an outstanding combination of having the heart of a litigator and the intellectual interest in antitrust law."

John Briggs, a leader in the antitrust practice at Axinn, called Matheson "his right-hand person for some years." He added: "I'd rather have him on my side than have him against me."

Dechert partner Mike Cowie in Washington, co-chairman of the firm's antitrust group, represented client PeroxyChem Holding Company, defending against a 2019 FTC action in which Matheson was on the trial team.

"Dan's trial style and litigation style is a wolf in wolf's clothing," Cowie told Reuters. He added: "Dan is smart and hard-working and he is a dedicated public service the FTC is fortunate to have."

A federal judge last year denied the FTC's bid for a preliminary injunction to block Evonik Industries AG's proposed $625 million acquisition of PeroxyChem.

In the FTC's antitrust lawsuit against chip maker Qualcomm Inc, Matheson cross-examined the San Diego-based technology company's founder, Irwin Jacobs, at trial in California federal court in 2019. News media reports of the questioning described Matheson as "aggressive" and a "bulldog."

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year reversed the agency's trial victory, and the agency did not press an appeal at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Matheson first joined the FTC as an antitrust attorney and was promoted in 2019 to deputy chief trial counsel. He was lead counsel in at least two cases in recent years.

In Missouri federal court, Matheson led the FTC in an action challenging a proposed joint venture between Peabody Energy Corp and Arch Coal Inc. A federal judge in September 2020 granted a preliminary injunction, and the two companies abandoned their agreement.

Matheson was also the agency's primary trial lawyer in an action alleging 1-800 Contacts Inc had violated antitrust law in advertising agreements with competitors. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June ordered the agency to dismiss its complaint. The FTC has asked the full appeals court to review the panel ruling.

The Facebook case, which is pending before Boasberg and could be one of the most important cases the FTC has filed in decades, will likely be career-defining for Matheson and the FTC trial team.

Axinn's Briggs said Matheson "will read the documents, he will know the facts and he will not be intimidated."

The case is Federal Trade Commission v. Facebook, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:20-cv-03590-JEB.

For the plaintiff: Daniel Matheson of the FTC

For the defendant: Mark Hansen of Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick

Read more:

U.S. FTC refiles antitrust complaint against Facebook

U.S. appeals court throws out FTC complaint against 1-800 Contacts

U.S. appeals court reverses antitrust ruling against Qualcomm

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