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July 6, 2011 7:50 PM

Justice Department's Top Antitrust Lawyer to Join Cravath

Posted by Tom Huddleston Jr.

Christine Varney, a key player in the Obama administration's efforts to shore up the nation's antitrust enforcement efforts, is leaving the Department of Justice to join Cravath, Swaine & Moore, a source at the firm confirmed on Wednesday.

Varney took her post as assistant attorney general of the department's antitrust division in April 2009, according to her Justice profile. Prior to that, she spent a decade as an antitrust partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Hogan & Hartson (now Hogan Lovells), where she founded and led that firm's Internet practice group. Varney also served as a commissioner with the Federal Trade Commission from 1994 to 1997.

Varney, a graduate of SUNY Albany, Syracuse University, and Georgetown Law, will step down from her Justice Department post effective August 5, according to a department announcement. She will join Cravath's New York office on September 6, a Cravath spokesperson said.

As assistant attorney general Varney has been in charge of leading the antitrust division's merger review, enforcement, competition advocacy, and international coordination programs. She oversees a staff of more than 800 people, with an annual budget of more than $160 million.

In March 2009, Neal Stoll and Shepard Goldfein, partners at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flompraised Varney's appointment to the post in an article for Am Law Daily sibling publication the New York Law Journal. Stoll and Goldfein noted Varney's past aggressive antitrust enforcement stance in relation to the technology sector, as well as in vertical mergers and vertical restraints.

Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., said in a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon that Varney's work at Justice helped stimulate market competition. "There is no doubt that her tireless work helped protect consumers and businesses from anticompetitive conduct and preserved competition in America's economy."

Among the hallmarks of Varney's tenure at DOJ was a sharpened focus on international cartel cases and price-fixing in the U.S. The antitrust division brought 60 criminal cases and charged 84 defendants in the last fiscal year, according to the DOJ statement. The division's lawyers collected more than $550 million in fines during that period.

In its announcement, DOJ highlighted some of the proposed transactions that the antitrust division challenged under Varney's watch, including the NASDAQ/ICE joint bid for NYSE Euronext and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan's attempted purchase of Physicians Health Plan of Mid-Michigan. A number of mergers during Varney's tenure "were significantly altered" by the involved parties as a means of securing regulatory approval from the division, DOJ said.

For Cravath, the hiring of Varney represents a major addition to one of its core practice areas. One of that practice's biggest clients is IBM--the firm defended that company in an antitrust battle with the government that stretched from 1969 until 1982, before reprising that role for a 2009 federal antitrust probe. Cravath also recently helped lead client United Airlines through antitrust proceedings related to the company's merger with Continental.

Even as she departs DOJ to join Cravath, Varney leaves behind at least one former Cravath partner who had been serving underneath her at the agency. Katherine Forrest, a former antitrust and litigation partner at the firm, joined the department's antitrust division in October 2010 as deputy assistant attorney general.

Varney said in a statement that her work at DOJ had been "a tremendous privilege."

 

Additional reporting by Mike Scarcella, The National Law Journal

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