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Robert Lewis, James Sowder, Gerald Wear, and Joel R. Yoseph; Analysis To Aid Public Comment

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Federal Trade Commission.

ACTION:

Proposed consent agreement.

SUMMARY:

The consent agreement in this matter settles alleged violations of federal law prohibiting unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition. The attached Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes both the allegations in the draft complaint that accompanies the consent agreement and the terms of the consent order—embodied in the consent agreement—that would settle these allegations.

DATES:

Comments must be received on or before July 13, 2004.

ADDRESSES:

Comments should refer to “Robert Lewis, James Sowder, Gerald Wear, and Joel R. Yoseph, File No. 031 0155,” to facilitate the organization of comments. A comment filed in paper form should include this reference both in the text and on the envelope, and should be mailed or delivered to the following address: Federal Trade Commission/Office of the Secretary, Room H-159, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580. Comments containing confidential material must be filed in paper form, as explained in the Supplementary Information section. The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions. Comments filed in electronic form (except comments containing any confidential material) should be sent to the following e-mail box: consentagreement@ftc.gov.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Joe Lipinsky, FTC Northwest Regional Office, 915 Second Avenue, Suite 2896, Seattle, WA 98174, (206) 220-4473.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Pursuant to Section 6(f) of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 38 Stat. 721, 15 U.S.C. 46(f), and Section 2.34 of the Commission's Rules of Practice, 16 CFR 2.34, notice is hereby given that the above-captioned consent agreement containing a consent order to cease and desist, having been filed with and accepted, subject to final approval, by the Commission, has been placed on the public record for a period of thirty (30) days. The following Analysis to Aid Public Comment describes the terms of the consent agreement, and the allegations in the complaint. An electronic copy of the full text of the consent agreement package can be obtained from the FTC Home Page (for June 14, 2004), on the World Wide Web, at http://www.ftc.gov/​os/​2004/​06/​index.htm. A paper copy can be obtained from the FTC Public Reference Room, Room 130-H, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580, either in person or by calling (202) 326-2222.

Public comments are invited, and may be filed with the Commission in either paper or electronic form. Written comments must be submitted on or before July 13, 2004. Comments should refer to “Robert Lewis, James Sowder, Gerald Wear, and Joel R. Yoseph, File No. 031 0155,” to facilitate the organization of comments. A comment filed in paper form should include this reference both in the text and on the envelope, and should be mailed or delivered to the following address: Federal Trade Commission/Office of the Secretary, Room H-159, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW., Washington, DC 20580. If the comment contains any material for which confidential treatment is requested, it must be filed in paper (rather than electronic) form, and the first page of the document must be clearly labeled “Confidential.” [1] The FTC is requesting that any comment filed in paper form be sent by courier or overnight service, if possible, because U.S. postal mail in the Washington area and at the Commission is subject to delay due to heightened security precautions. Comments filed in electronic form should be sent to the following e-mail box: consentagreement@ftc.gov.

The FTC Act and other laws the Commission administers permit the collection of public comments to consider and use in this proceeding as appropriate. All timely and responsive public comments, whether filed in paper or electronic form, will be considered by the Commission, and will be available to the public on the FTC Web site, to the extent practicable, at www.ftc.gov. As a matter of discretion, the FTC makes every effort to remove home contact information for individuals from the public comments it receives before placing those comments on the FTC Web site. More information, including routine uses permitted by the Privacy Act, may be found in the FTC's privacy policy, at http://www.ftc.gov/​ftc/​privacy.htm.

Analysis of Agreement Containing Consent Order To Aid Public Comment

The Federal Trade Commission has accepted, subject to final approval, an agreement containing a proposed consent order with Robert Lewis, James Sowder, Gerald Wear and Joel R. Yoseph. The Respondents are attorneys who provide criminal defense services to indigents in Clark County, Washington. The agreement settles charges that these parties violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, 15 U.S.C. 45, by orchestrating and implementing a conspiracy among 43 competing attorneys to fix prices and other terms charged for providing criminal defense services to indigents.

The proposed consent order has been placed on the public record for 30 days to receive comments from interested persons. Comments received during this period will become part of the public Start Printed Page 39936record. After 30 days, the Commission will review the agreement and the comments received and will decide whether it should withdraw from the agreement or make the proposed order final.

The purpose of this analysis is to facilitate public comment on the proposed order. The analysis is not intended to constitute an official interpretation of the agreement and proposed order or to modify their terms in any way. Further, the proposed consent order has been entered into for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission by any Respondent that said Respondent violated the law or that the facts alleged in the complaint (other than jurisdictional facts) are true.

The Complaint

The allegations of the complaint are summarized below.

In Clark County, Washington, criminal defense services for indigent defendants are provided by private attorneys working in individual practices or as members of small law firms, who work under contract with Clark County. Those attorneys were and are separate and independent competitors of one another in all material respects.

Near the end of 2001, Clark County started its biennial contract negotiations with the attorneys who had provided criminal indigent defense services during the preceding contract period. Early in these negotiations, the Respondents presented the County with a document titled “Indigent Defense Bar Consortium Contract” (hereinafter “Consortium Contract”) signed by 43 of the attorneys who had previously signed felony contracts with the County. In that document, the Respondents and their colleagues purported to form a “Consortium” and stated their intention to authorize the Consortium, as represented by the Respondents, to be the sole negotiator on behalf of all signatories. The document further stated the signatories' collective demand to alter the payment methodology and substantially increase the payment for all homicide, attempted homicide, persistent offender and death penalty cases. The signatories also stated their intention to refuse to accept any further such cases unless the County acceded to their demands, and authorized the Consortium to take legal action against any signatory who agreed to provide criminal defense services on terms inconsistent with those demanded by the Consortium.

After receiving the document from the Respondents, Clark County agreed to a new contract adopting the payment methodology demanded by the Consortium and substantially increasing reimbursement rates for all homicide, attempted homicide, persistent offender and death penalty cases. The Respondents, by orchestrating the formation of the Consortium and threatening the County with a refusal to deal, have violated Section 5 of the FTC Act.

The Proposed Consent Order

The proposed order is designed to remedy the illegal conduct charged in the complaint and prevent its recurrence. It is modeled after the remedy sought by the Commission and approved by the Supreme Court in Federal Trade Commission v. Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association, 493 U.S. 411 (1990), in which the Court held that a boycott among criminal indigent defense attorneys was a per se violation of the antitrust laws, despite the lawyers' claims that the boycott was a political act ostensibly designed to improve the quality of representation by increasing their reimbursement rates. The Court observed that “[n]o matter how altruistic the motives of respondents may have been, it is undisputed that their immediate objective was to increase the price that they would be paid for their services.” 493 U.S. at 427.

The proposed order's specific provisions are as follows:

Paragraph II.A prohibits the Respondents from entering into or facilitating any agreement between or among any attorneys: (1) To negotiate with payors on any attorney's behalf; (2) to deal, to refuse to deal, or to threaten to refuse to deal with payors; (3) regarding the terms of dealing with any payor; or (4) not to deal individually with any payor.

Other parts of Paragraph II reinforce these general prohibitions. Paragraph II.B prohibits the Respondents from facilitating exchanges of information between attorneys concerning whether, or on what terms, to deal with a payor. Paragraph II.C bars attempts to engage in any action prohibited by Paragraph II.A or II.B; and Paragraph II.D proscribes inducing anyone to engage in any action prohibited by Paragraphs II.A through II.C.

Paragraph II contains a proviso clarifying that the order does not prohibit rights to petition government officials, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, nor does the order prohibit the Respondents from providing information or views to the County or its representatives.

Paragraphs III, IV and V impose various obligations on Respondents to report or provide access to information to the Commission to facilitate monitoring Respondents' compliance with the order.

The proposed order will expire in 20 years.

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By direction of the Commission.

Donald S. Clark,

Secretary.

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Footnotes

1.  Commission Rule 4.2(d), 16 CFR 4.2(d). The comment must be accompanied by an explicit request for confidential treatment, including the factual and legal basis for the request, and must identify the specific portions of the comment to be withheld from the public record. The request will be granted or denied by the Commission's General Counsel, consistent with applicable law and the public interest. See Commission Rule 4.9(c), 16 CFR 4.9(c).

Back to Citation

[FR Doc. 04-14968 Filed 6-30-04; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 6750-01-P